Exploring the World Through Languages

Climbing our way up the Eiffel Tower on a scorching, hot day, I wished one of my family members knew how to read French so that we could have deciphered between the elevator and stairs line. Not knowing which line was which, since the signs that we saw were in French, we joined the shortest line, which happened to be the line for climbing the stairs of the Eiffel Tower, while the long line for the elevator was on the opposite side. On the contrary, our visit to Spain was free of any misunderstandings, since my sister had learned Spanish for five years. She was able to speak to the natives to ask questions, read most of the signs and knew some Spanish customs which allowed us to navigate through Barcelona with ease. It is essential for individuals to learn languages other than their mother language in order to be prepared to face situations when they are exposed to different cultures. Individuals who learn foreign languages not only will reap personal and cognitive benefits, but also will have an edge in job markets, while becoming cosmopolitan citizens.

In economic terms, everything has an opportunity cost including the study of foreign languages. An hour spent learning Spanish is an hour spent not learning something else. Therefore, is there a significant value to putting an increased amount of time and effort to learn a second language, when an individual could be investing the work to improve on his or her performance in the core academic classes such as math, history, English or science?

Research from Penn State has shown that there are many personal and cognitive benefits to learning foreign languages. For example, elementary students who studied a foreign language scored higher on tests in reading, math and language arts. These students are able to experience a boost in mental aptitude since the creative thinking and problem solving skills of the students are sharpened. Bilinguals have more gray matter in the vocabulary acquisition portion of the brain, therefore, this portion of the brain is constantly getting a workout as the individual uses creative thinking skills to form sentences with unfamiliar vocabulary words. Furthermore, this “workout” stimulates the growth of the brain, allowing the brain to work more efficiently since learning a new language has the ability to rewire the brain to form new neurons and connections among the intellectual network.

The earlier an individual learns a foreign language, the more cognitive benefits he or she will receive. Children who are exposed to a second language will be able to acquire mental flexibility, creativity, problem solving, conceptualizing, and reasoning skills which potentially could be neglected if language classes are not emphasized in schools. In addition, this skill set a student can acquire can be used in other areas of academic work, allowing the student to perform better on assessments. The environment in a language class is much different than one of a math class, since it fosters creativity within the students. There are a variety of ways a language can be learned, such as working with other students, playing interactive games, watching movies from the culture the students are studying or writing creative stories. This freedom of learning in multiple ways allows students to acquire different skills than they would have in a math class where there is a set procedure to solve problems. Studying a foreign language comes with many valuable rewards that allow individuals to acquire a whole new skill set.

In an increasingly interconnected world, being multilingual has proven to be advantageous for opening new prospects in the job market and for achieving corporate success. Fluency in a second language is a valuable skill on a job resume and allows the individual to have an edge in the job market compared to monolinguals. Employers who are looking to expand their company’s network are more willing to send the employees who are proficient in another language to complete overseas projects. If the employee is successful in the project, they could be promoted to a higher position in the company. Additionally, knowing a second language in marketing or sales jobs can add between 10% to 15% to the individual’s wage. There are benefits to being fluent in a foreign language in other job areas as well, such as the education system where educators can have students from diverse language backgrounds, and scientists usually communicate with members in their field from different countries. By knowing a foreign language, employees will be able to increase their value as they have a more advanced skill set than someone who is monolingual, allowing them to be an asset in their workplace.

Learning a new language allows individuals to become cosmopolitan citizens since they are able to explore and understand a different culture. Without the barrier of language, individuals can interact with a wide array of people that they would not have had contact with otherwise. Language classes have the ability to create culturally aware students who are intrigued in the diversity of our world. As students learn a language, it is essential for them to learn the background of the culture of the country where the language is spoken since it will foster curiosity of the world in them. Furthermore, a person is able to show respect to another culture by knowing the native language of the nation he or she travels to. While learning a language, a person does not simply study the vocabulary, nouns and verbs but also a set of rich customs in a culture that come with it allowing the individual to be educated on a lifestyle different from his or her own. A nation consisting of cosmopolitan citizens creates a “true melting pot society”, that holds diverse viewpoints which can mesh together to form changes for the well being of the country.

Languages are increasingly valuable in our globalized world where communication is the basis for nations’ interdependent economies. It is true that English is an universal language which is widely spoken in the world. However, languages are a significant component to each country’s culture and promote diversity in the world. Additionally, studying a language results in students performing better on standardized tests and offers them a wide variety of skills that are not as easily found in other classrooms. Individuals who learn a second language can become culturally aware citizens which is essential in today’s world where many hate crimes are committed due to misunderstandings about different cultures. Multilingualism can prevent ignorance within people since they are further educated about cultures apart from their own and it will allow individuals to function more efficiently in our interconnected world. Understanding a culture’s customs and history can limit discrimination as people who have the chance to learn about different cultures do not carry misconceptions. Furthermore, languages preserve the roots of individuals allowing them to explore their unique family heritage and gain an insight on the set of values generations before them have given importance to. By learning foreign languages, individuals will not only garner the skills to increase their fluency in the language, but also receive the opportunity to explore the diverse world around them as they become compassionate towards people from different cultures.