Finn: Being bilingual offers more benefits than disadvantages

Taylor Finn

Children that learn a second language at an early age have many benefits over children who are monolingual. Countries all around the world such as China, Germany and many others begin to teach children a second language as soon as elementary school. Here in America, however, policy makers don’t realize the benefits of learning a second language. They seem to have the mindset that if the rest of the world is speaking English than what need is there for Americans to learn anything else?

Unfortunately, this mindset holds us back from becoming better citizens and gaining skills along the way. When an individual goes through the process of learning a second language they not only learn about grammar and vocabulary, but they also gain a better understanding of a culture unlike their own. This exposure to a new lifestyle and belief system can lead to more tolerance and acceptance for people from countries that differ from America, and if you ask me, tolerance is something many Americans lack.

In addition to becoming familiar with different cultures, studies have shown that bilingual children are generally better problem solvers, more creative and have better memories. The skill set children gain from learning another language can be applied throughout their lives and can make learning in general a much easier process. Much like when children learn a new instrument, studying a second language exercises a part of the brain that is often unused. Stimulating another part of the brain opens up many opportunities in terms of learning capability and overall intelligence.

We often hear the distressed politicians talking about how American students stack up to foreign students in terms of math scores and literacy. There is a bit of panic that the American education system is lacking in terms of preparing today’s youth. In response to that panic our government, in conjunction with a team of educators have designed a few different curricula over the years. We all know about former President Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” policy, which had good intentions but failed miserably.

The latest development in academia is a program called “Common Core.” This program raises the standards, and is heavily focused on math and reading, it depends on standardized testing, and ambitious goals. So far the reviews on this program have been quite mixed, some critics claim that it is taking the joy out of learning and deterring many high-achieving students from working to their full potential because getting an A on any given test is extremely difficult.

When looking at both No Child Left Behind and Common Core, I see a major component that both of them are lacking. The vital aspect in which I believe to be extremely important is incorporating a foreign language. The hypotheses have been tested, and time and time again the results of these experiments tell us that learning a second language, especially at an early age has tremendous benefits.

The cognitive benefits alone should convince todays policy makers and educators to consider incorporating a language component in their future plans. Not to mention the fact that we live in a very interconnected culture. Many employees are looking to hire individuals with versatility, and the ability to communicate with a foreign clientele base. The advantages bilingual individuals have are numerous, yet there has been very little push for mandating the teaching of a second language in elementary or middle schools.

When students are young, they have the ability to catch on to a second language much quicker than if those same students were in high school or in college. We are doing today’s youth a great disservice by not giving them any exposure to a second language.

If what we want is to produce scholars and employees that are marketable and able to compete in the international market, it is imperative that we begin to teach today’s youth a second language early, and that we continue teaching them that language as they get older.