This electronic listserv focuses on early foreign language learning and provides community support and interaction.
Ñandu continues to be an active listserv addressing current topics and issues.
To read archived messages, click here.
Benefits of Being Bilingual
Second Language Learning: Everyone Can Benefit
The 1990s have been a decade of renewed interest in language learning. As always, political and economic concerns play a major role in the nation’s perception of the value of learning a second language (Met and Galloway, 1992). In addition, there is now a growing appreciation of the role that multilingual individuals can play in an increasingly diverse society, and there is also a greater understanding of the academic and cognitive benefits that may accrue from learning other languages. During the past five years in particular, researchers, policymakers, educators, employers, parents, and the media have reexamined the advantages of foreign language learning.
In 1989, a presidential resolution declaring the 1990s the “decade of the brain” was announced. An increased level of research on brain development has been under way throughout the 1990s. Some of this research has analyzed the effect of language acquisition on the brain. The results of these studies have generated media interest in how early learning experiences— including first and second language acquisition—promote cognitive development. Newsweek magazine, for example, devoted a special edition to the critical first three years of a child’s life and indicated that there is a window of opportunity for second language learning that begins when a child is one year of age (Lach, 1997). A recent article in Time magazine suggested that foreign languages should be taught to children as early as possible (Nash, 1997). And the television newsmagazine Dateline NBC aired a segment on first and second language acquisition in November 1997.
This article summarizes findings from numerous sources on the benefits of studying second languages and offers suggestions to parents and educators for encouraging language learning at home and at school. (A detailed list of ways to foster a language-proficient society appears in “Putting It All Together: Fostering a Language- Proficient Society” on page 70 of the ERIC Review, from which this article is reprinted.)
Benefits of Second Language Learning
Some studies have found that students who learn foreign languages score statistically higher on standardized college entrance exams than those who do not. For example, the College Entrance Examination Board reported that students who had averaged four or more years of foreign language study scored higher on the verbal section of the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) than those who had studied four or more years of any other subject (College Entrance Examination Board, 1992; Cooper, 1987). These findings, which were consistent with College Board profiles for previous years (College Entrance Examination Board, 1982; Solomon, 1984) and with the work of Eddy (1981), suggest that studying a second language for a number of years may contribute to higher SAT scores. (1)
Although second language classes
are not always readily available, many r esources exist to help parents and
Throughout the school years, parents can show their children that the ability to speak a second language is valued by encouraging an interest in other languages and cultures. Parents can show their respect for other cultures and ways of speaking by inviting people who speak other languages into their homes and by attending cultural events featuring music, dance, or food from other countries. They can also provide their children with books, videos, and similar materials in other languages, and they can send their children to foreign language camps.
To supplement language classes, parents of older children might also wish to explore the possibility of enrolling them in international exchange programs.< Students normally live abroad with a host family, which provides them with a safe and sheltered environment where they can practice their language skills. These experiences offer valuable opportunities to complement second language study with firsthand exploration of a different culture.
Research has shown that second language study offers many benefits to students in terms of improved communicative ability, cognitive development, cultural awareness, and job opportunities. Society as a whole also profits economically, politically, and socially when its citizens can communicate< with and appreciate people from other countries and cultures. Parents and educators would be wise to take advantage of the many available opportunities and resources for second language learning for the benefit of children coming of age in the 21st century.
Allen, L. Q. 1992. “Foreign Language
Curriculum for the Gifted.” Gifted Child
Today 15 (6): 12–15.
Bamford, K. W., and D. T. Mizokawa.
1991. “Additive-Bilingual (Immersion)
Education: Cognitive and Language
Barik, H. C., and M. Swain. 1975. Bilingual Education Project: Evaluation of the 1974– 75 French Immersion Program in Grades 2–4, Ottawa Board of Education and Carleton Board of Education. Toronto: Ontario Institute of Studies in Education. ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 121 056.
Bialystok, E. 1997. “Effects of Bilingualism and Biliteracy on Children’s Emergent Concepts of Print.” Developmental Psychology 30 (3): 429–440.
Brickman, W. W. 1988. “The Multilingual Development of the Gifted.” Roeper Review< 10 (4): 247–250.
Bruck, M., W. E. Lambert, and R. Tucker. 1974. “Bilingual Schooling Through the Elementary Grades: The St. Lambert Project at Grade Seven.” Language Learning 24 (2): 183–204.
College Entrance Examination Board. 1992. College-Bound Seniors. 1992 Profile of SAT and Achievement Test Takers. National Report. New York: Author. ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 351 352.
College Entrance Examination Board. 1982. Profiles, College-Bound Seniors, 1981. New York: Author. ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 223 708.
Cooper, T. C. 1987. “Foreign Language Study and SAT-Verbal Scores.” Modern Language Journal 71 (4): 381–387. Curtain, H. 1997. Early Start Language Programs. Unpublished paper. Madison, WI: Author.
Curtain, H., and C. A. Pesola. 1994. Languages and Children: Making the Match. Second edition. White Plains, NY: Longman.
Curtiss, S. (speaker). 1995. Gray Matters: The Developing Brain. Final script of radio broadcast. Madison, WI: Wisconsin Public Radio Association.
de Lopez, M., N. Lawrence, and M. Montalvo. 1990. “Local Advocacy for Second Language Education: A Case Study in New Mexico.” ERIC Digest. Washington, DC: ERIC Clearinghouse on Languages and Linguistics. Document Reproduction Service No. ED 327 067.
Eddy, P. A. 1981. The Effect of Foreign Language Study in High School on Verbal Ability as Measured by the Scholastic Aptitude Test—Verbal Final Report. Washington, DC: Center for Applied Linguistics. ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 196 312.
Genesee, F. 1987. Learning Through Two Languages. Cambridge, MA: Newbury House.
Genesee, F. 1978. “Is There an Optimal Age for Starting Second Language Instruction?” McGill Journal of Education 13 (2): 145–154.
Genesee, F. 1976. “The Role of Intelligence in Second Language Learning.” Language Learning 26 (2): 267–280.
Hakuta, K. 1986. Cognitive Development of Bilingual Children. Los Angeles: University of California, Center for Language Education and Research. ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 278 260.
Harley, B. 1986. Age in Second Language Acquisition. San Diego, CA: College Hill Press.
Johnson, J. S., and E. L. Newport. 1989. “Critical Period Effects in Second Language Learning: The Influence of Maturational State on the Acquisition of English as a Second Language.” Cognitive Psychology 21 (1): 60–99.
Lach, J. Spring/Summer 1997. “Cultivating the Mind.” Newsweek Special Issue: Your Child—From Birth to Three 38–39.
Lipton, G. 1995. Focus on FLES*: Planning and Implementing FLES* (Foreign Language in Elementary Schools) Programs. Baltimore, MD: National FLES* Institute.
Met., M., and V. Galloway. 1992. “Research in Foreign Language Curriculum.” In P. Jackson, ed., Topics and Issues Within Curriculum Categories. New York: Macmillan.
Nash, J. M. February 3, 1997. “Fertile Minds.” Time 149 (5): 49–56.
Patkowski, M. S. 1990. “Age and Accent in a Second Language: A Reply to James Emil Flege.” Applied Linguistics 11 (1): 73–90.
Rafferty, E. A. 1986. Second Language Study and Basic Skills in Louisiana. Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State Department of Education. ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 283 360.
Schneider, E. 1996. “Teaching Foreign Languages to At-Risk Learners.” ERIC Digest. Washington, DC: ERIC Clearinghouse on Languages and Linguistics. ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 402 788.
Solomon, A. 1984. Profiles, College-Bound Seniors, 1984. New York: College Entrance Examination Board. ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 253 157.
Sparks, R. L., and others. 1991. “Use of an Orton-Gillingham Approach To Teach a Foreign Language to Dyslexic/Learning- Disabled Students: Explicit Teaching of Phonology in a Second Language.” Annals of Dyslexia 41: 96–118.
Swain, M., 1981. “Early French Immersion Later On.” Journal of Multicultural Development 2 (1): 1–23.
Swain, M. and S. Lapkin. 1989. “Canadian Immersion and Adult Second Language Teaching: What’s the Connection?” Modern Language Journal 73 (2): 150–159.
Thomas, W. P., V. P. Collier, and M. Abbott. 1993. “Academic Achievement Through Japanese, Spanish, or French: The First Two Years of Partial Immersion.” Modern Language Journal 77 (2): 170–180.
Villano, D. April 1996. “Heads Up: Time To Go Bilingual?” Smartkid 1 (4): 45–49. Weatherford, H. J. 1986. “Personal Benefits of Foreign Language Study.” ERIC Digest. Washington, DC: ERIC Clearinghouse on Languages and Linguistics. ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. 276 305.
(1) Although the College Board studies
show a correlation between studying a
foreign language and achieving higher
scores on the SAT, it is difficult to prove
causality. It may be that the SAT scores of
students who take several years of a foreign
language are also influenced by other
variables, such as their socioeconomic
class, the educational level of their parents,
or the resources available in their secondary
Reprinted from Marcos, K. M. (1998, Fall). Second language learning: Everyone can benefit. The ERIC Review, 6(1), 2-5.
© Ñandutí 2016. All rights reserved.