Two Languages Are Better Than One

I have a confession to make…

I was born in Germany and don’t know how to speak German...not one word…

I moved to the U.S. when I was still an infant; therefore, I had no chance of immersing myself in the language. Still, there is no excuse. There is no excuse that at my age I can only speak one language. Especially since I was forced to take Spanish in high school. Most colleges mandate that prospective students take at least four years of a foreign language in order to be accepted. But once I got to Cornell, I decided not to continue Spanish because I didn’t think it was that important. It wasn’t until I visited Morocco that I realized the errors in my mindset...

I was on a train in Rabat heading back to Casablanca when I met two guys from Cameroon. We spoke mostly about cultural differences, college life, etc. They were pretty down-to-earth and enjoyed traveling the world. We had a lot in common. One of the guys asked me how many languages I spoke and I immediately began to feel self-conscious. I reluctantly said one and they busted out laughing at me. Hysterically. Okay, maybe not hysterically, but to the point that I felt extremely embarrassed. When I asked them the same question, both said four.

See, back home, it was perfectly normal to only speak English and nothing else. It wasn’t until I left my “bubble” that I realized that not being able to speak another language was like not knowing your multiplication tables...maybe not that extreme...but you get the point. That conversation still haunts me to this day and I plan to finally address it!

Brandon and I both believe that it is important to speak more than one language. I mean, we have built an organization that encourages youth to embrace the world around them. Therefore, this summer we have made it our mission to hold each other accountable as we pursue our journey to becoming fluent in Spanish.

So, what are the benefits of speaking more than one language?

In the World Economic Forum article, “The Advantages of Speaking Two Languages”, Rebecca Callahan, an Associate Professor at the University of Texas, points out that speaking more than one language can improve the developing brain, problem-solving skills and enhance the chances of young adults experiencing success in the job market.

The NPRED article, “6 Potential Brain Benefits Of Bilingual Education”, points out the positive impact of speaking more than one language. You should definitely read the article in its entirety, but I want to highlight a couple of quotes that stood out to me:

  •  Attention "[Bilinguals] can pay focused attention without being distracted and also improve in the ability to switch from one task to another”.
  • School performance and engagement “In studies covering six states and 37 districts, they have found that, compared with students in English-only classrooms or in one-way immersion, dual-language students have somewhat higher test scores and also seem to be happier in school. Attendance is better, behavioral problems fewer, parent involvement higher.”

  • Diversity and integration “American public school classrooms as a whole are becoming more segregated by race and class. Dual-language programs can be an exception. Because they are composed of native English speakers deliberately placed together with recent immigrants, they tend to be more ethnically and socioeconomically balanced. And there is some evidence that this helps kids of all backgrounds gain comfort with diversity and different cultures.”

These are just two of many articles that discuss how exposure to a second language can positively affect a young person’s education and career. I encourage you to continue conducting your own research and tell us what you find. We’d love to hear from you!

At this point, I am guessing that you’re eager to learn another language and thinking that you need to invest in an expensive program. Well, you’re in luck because there are various FREE programs that you can download to give you a good introduction into any language of your choice. My favorite is Duolingo. It is a mobile-friendly app that allows users to select from twenty-eight languages in a fun and engaging way. Did I mention that it is FREE? PC Magazine created a list of the best free language learning apps that can be accessed by clicking this link. I hope you find the information helpful!

Educators & Parents - Summer is 14 days away. If your students and/or children are looking for something to do, I recommend that they try learning a language. You never know, they might end up surprising you come Fall!

Students - I challenge you to take advantage of the free time that you will have this Summer. How much of another language can you learn before school starts back up?

  

Stay Educated. Stay Empowered. Stay WellTraveled.