Tag Archives: foreign language learning

The Benefits of Foreign Language Learning

Once again, there are a multitude of benefits to learning another language as this new article points out. How many more reasons do you need to start learning another (or more)? Anne Merritt in The Telegraph, June 19, 2013:

Physiological studies have found that speaking two or more languages is a great asset to the cognitive process. The brains of bilingual people operate differently than single language speakers, and these differences offer several mental benefits.

Below are seven cognitive advantages to learning a foreign language. Many of these attributes are only apparent in people who speak multiple languages regularly – if you haven’t spoken a foreign tongue since your A levels, your brain might not be reaping these bilingual benefits. However, people who begin language study in their adult lives can still achieve the same levels of fluency as a young learner, and still reap the same mental benefits, too.

You become smarter

Speaking a foreign language improves the functionality of your brain by challenging it to recognise, negotiate meaning, and communicate in different language systems. This skill boosts your ability to negotiate meaning in other problem-solving tasks as well.

Students who study foreign languages tend to score better on standardised tests than their monolingual peers, particularly in the categories of maths, reading, and vocabulary.

You build multitasking skills

Multilingual people, especially children, are skilled at switching between two systems of speech, writing, and structure. According to a study from the Pennsylvania State University, this “juggling” skill makes them good multitaskers, because they can easily switch between different structures. In one study, participants used a driving simulator while doing separate, distracting tasks at the same time. The research found that people who spoke more than one language made fewer errors in their driving.

You stave off Alzheimer’s and dementia

Several studies have been conducted on this topic, and the results are consistent. For monolingual adults, the mean age for the first signs of dementia is 71.4. For adults who speak two or more languages, the mean age for those first signs is 75.5. Studies considered factors such as education level, income level, gender, and physical health, but the results were consistent.

Top 10 best languages to study to get a job: in pictures

Your memory improves

Educators often liken the brain to a muscle, because it functions better with exercise. Learning a language involves memorising rules and vocabulary, which helps strengthen that mental “muscle.” This exercise improves overall memory, which means that multiple language speakers are better at remembering lists or sequences. Studies show that bilinguals are better at retaining shopping lists, names, and directions.

You become more perceptive

A study from Spain’s University of Pompeu Fabra revealed that multilingual people are better at observing their surroundings. They are more adept at focusing on relevant information and editing out the irrelevant. They’re also better at spotting misleading information. Is it any surprise that Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot are skilled polyglots?

Your decision-making skills improve

According to a study from the University of Chicago, bilinguals tend to make more rational decisions. Any language contains nuance and subtle implications in its vocabulary, and these biases can subconsciously influence your judgment. Bilinguals are more confident with their choices after thinking it over in the second language and seeing whether their initial conclusions still stand up.

You improve your English

Learning a foreign language draws your focus to the mechanics of language: grammar, conjugations, and sentence structure. This makes you more aware of language, and the ways it can be structured and manipulated. These skills can make you a more effective communicator and a sharper editor and writer. Language speakers also develop a better ear for listening, since they’re skilled at distinguishing meaning from discreet sounds.

Anne Merritt is an EFL lecturer currently based in South Korea. She writes at http://annemerritt.com/

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An Irreverent Look at Learning Foreign Languages

Buzzfeed has outdone itself with this irreverent bit about the pitfalls of language learning.

Here’s the link to “17 Things You’ll Only Understand If You Studied A Foreign Language at University:

http://www.buzzfeed.com/sirajdatoo/18-things-youll-only-get-if-you-studied-a-foreign-language-a

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Benefits of Learning Foreign Languages

Here’s a column by “Mr. Dad” (a.k.a. Armin Brott) that argues the benefits of foreign language learning. Definitely worth reading! from heraldonline.com, June 7, 2013:

Dear Mr. Dad: The U.S. is the most powerful country in the world and everyone wants to do business with us. Since we speak English here, how important do you think it is for children to learn a foreign language?

Unfortunately, our education system doesn’t place a lot of value on foreign-language knowledge – for exactly the reasons you mentioned. But in my view, it’s very important.

Of course, you’re talking to a guy with an undergrad degree in Russian and a minor in French, so you can take that with a grain of salt.

But there’s plenty of research to back me up. Let me walk you through some of the benefits.

• It can make you smarter – Numerous studies have found that studying a foreign language improves students’ listening skills, memory, and attention span, along with their critical thinking skills, ability to solve problems, and creativity.

Foreign language learners also do better than their mono-lingual (knowing only one-language) peers on verbal and math tests. Yes, math. Some experts believe that learning a new language requires an understanding of patterns and deciphering puzzles – both of which are related to mathematics. Multi-lingual kids also increase their English vocabulary, reading, and grammar usage.

• It could help you get a job, and more – Participants in a recent study done at the American Graduate School of International Management (Thunderbird) in Glendale, Ariz., told researchers that knowing a foreign language had given them a leg up in being hired and improved their career paths. It also made them more aware of and interested in other cultures,

• It’s patriotic – According to the National Research Council, “A pervasive lack of knowledge about foreign cultures and foreign languages threatens the security of the United States as well as its ability to compete in the global marketplace and produce an informed citizenry.” In other words, the easier it is to communicate with people, the less they’ll be to go to war.

• It keeps your mind sharp – Knowledge of two or more languages has been shown to protect against Alzheimer’s and other similar brain diseases.

• It makes your brain bigger – Students in the Swedish Armed Forces Interpreter Academy have to become fluent in several different languages within only 13 months.

Researchers compared the students’ brains with those of others who also have to learn a huge amount of information in a short time, such as medical students. They found that the language learners experienced major growth in several areas of the brain (the hippocampus and the cerebral cortex). But the medical students’ brains didn’t grow at all.

• It can make the world a little smaller. Knowing another language – or developing the skills to learn one – makes it easier to travel and to enjoy other countries’ culture.

Rather than asking whether or not you should have your child learn a second language, I’d suggest that you ask: When? And the answer to that one is “The younger the better.”

Some studies indicate that starting at around age 10, we start losing the ability to hear and reproduce sounds from other languages. That explains why most people who move to a new country as adults can’t quite lose their accent.

But their children master the host language – including idioms, slang, and even swearing – accent-free. Each additional year of second language training increases the chances of experiencing the benefits above.

Armin Brott, a.k.a. “Mr. Dad,” is the author of “The Expectant Father: Facts, Tips and Advice for Dads-to-Be.”

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Bridge to Award Scholarships for Americans to Learn Portuguese

From PR Web, May 25, 2013:

Bridge will award 25 intensive Portuguese scholarships at the NAFSA international education conference in May of this year to encourage foreign language study in the U.S.

Over thirty years after the publication of the book The Tongue-Tied American: Confronting the Foreign Language Crisis, the majority of Americans still remain monolingual. In his remarks to the Foreign Language Summit held at the University of Maryland on December 8, 2010, U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, pointed out that “The United States is a long way from being the multi-lingual society that so many of our economic competitors are”, stating that only 18% of Americans report speaking a foreign language. This is not surprising considering the following statistics:

Only 25% of elementary schools in the US offer foreign language instruction
Only 18% of American K-12 students are enrolled in a foreign language course
Only 16% of four-year US higher education institutions require that all of their graduates study a foreign language.

The de-emphasis on language learning in U.S. education has become a hot topic in the field of international education, most recently evidenced by The Forum on Education Abroad’s organization of a Fireside Dialogue on the role of language learning in study abroad. The weekend event consisted of rigorous debate by leaders in the language field about the role of language learning in education abroad and importance of having foreign language skills for success in today’s globalized world.

“It seems that everyone in higher education is talking about cultural competence as an essential skill for the 21st century, yet few Americans seem to recognize that learning a foreign language is a direct pathway to developing intercultural skills.” states Lisa Rooney, Vice President of Teacher Training and Education Abroad at Bridge, and one of the invited participants in the Dialogue. “For some reason there exists a disconnect between the two.”

The Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21), on the other hand, has identified the connection between language learning and the development of cultural competency and global awareness, and in conjunction with the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, has even created a 21st Century Skills World Languages Map that illustrates the intersection of the core subject of world languages with essential skills for the 21st century. P21 recognizes that “Language education not only contributes to students’ career and college readiness, it also helps develop the individual as language learners take on a new and more invigorating view of the world. This is what makes the language student a 21st Century skilled learner!”

In order to bring more attention to the American language deficit at the upcoming annual NAFSA conference in St. Louis, MO, the largest conference for the field of international education, Bridge has decided to award 25 intensive Portuguese scholarships for study at their school in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. When asked why the language chosen was Portuguese, Bridge responded that learning Portuguese is becoming more and more important for many reasons, especially for the business world, as highlighted in a recent article published in Language Magazine.

Bridge has also partnered with Brazilian universities in order to promote the study of Portuguese, including the Fundação Armando Alvares Penteado-FAAP in Sao Paulo, one of the top universities in Brazil to offer extensive Portuguese language and Brazilian history and culture programs. When asked why students today should learn Portuguese, FAAP’s Academic Coordinator for Language and Culture, Professor Silvia Burim, pointed out that “Portuguese is the third most spoken European language in the world […], the sixth most spoken language worldwide, the fifth most spoken language on the web and the third most used language on Facebook. The search for Portuguese courses has grown significantly due to Brazil’s position in the economical world scenario.”

“We hope that awarding 25 scholarships will put the spotlight on the importance of language learning in general, and Portuguese study specifically, amongst leaders in international education, but we know that there is a lot more work to be done.” Rooney stated. “We invite others to join Bridge in our advocacy efforts, with the ultimate intention of molding a new America that is no longer tongue-tied.”

About Bridge: Founded in 1983, Bridge Linguatec, Inc d/b/a/Bridge is a world leader in language education abroad. An international company with headquarters in Denver, Colorado, and affiliate centers in Argentina, Brazil, and Chile, Bridge offers a wide spectrum of language related products and services, including language training and immersion programs, teacher training and development courses, language testing, translation and interpretation services, international student recruitment and cross-cultural travel programs including international service learning, internships, language study and teaching English abroad.

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England’s Higher Education Council to Boost Language Learning

From http://www.hefce.ac.uk, May 21, 2013:

From August 2013, a consortium led by the University of Southampton will deliver a three-year programme which builds upon the achievements of the Routes into Languages activities [Note 1] by stimulating new ideas and partnerships to address the challenges arising from reforms in schools and higher education.

The new programme will encourage greater collaboration between universities, schools and employers, with the aim of raising aspirations and attainment of students in secondary schools and higher education. Activities will include events, the appointing of student ambassadors and sustained interventions such as programmes of languages in context and a national language-related Spelling Bee competition. There will also be a focus on increasing participation in work and study abroad, and promoting career opportunities and employability for language students.

Universities and Science Minister, David Willetts, said:

‘Modern language skills are highly prized by employers. This additional funding will help thousands of prospective students learn more about the opportunities available, to gain a competitive edge in a global economy.’

Chris Millward, HEFCE Associate Director, said:

‘We are very pleased to continue our support for this important programme to raise demand from young people to study modern foreign languages. Employers have consistently highlighted the importance of languages and intercultural skills within a globalised labour force. The new programme’s activities will complement our recent funding settlement for the year abroad by promoting language-based studies, and study and work abroad, to students in all disciplines’.

Professor Mike Kelly, Director of the Routes into Languages programme, said:

‘I am delighted that we shall be able to build on the remarkable achievements of Routes in promoting the study of languages. The HEFCE investment will facilitate a unique programme of collaboration between more than 60 universities across England, working with hundreds of schools and thousands of students. The new programme, co-ordinated by the team at the University of Southampton, will make a real impact on the take-up of languages and of opportunities to work and study abroad’.

Professor Jim Coleman, Chair of the University Council of Modern Languages (UCML), said:

‘HEFCE’s initiative underlines the enormous importance of language study in this country, and UCML’s members enthusiastically welcome this renewed support. University language departments are totally committed to championing language learning in schools, to maximising outward mobility and to increasing the take-up of languages by students in all disciplines. We are renewing language curricula and expanding access to provide graduates with the full range of capabilities which the job market demands. HEFCE’s backing helps us enormously in achieving these goals – this is a great day for languages’.

HEFCE is continuing to support modern foreign languages within its programme of support for strategically important and vulnerable subjects (SIVS) [Note 2]. Following advice from the SIVS Advisory Group [note 3], HEFCE is considering how collaborative provision may sustain the modern foreign language supply in higher education, despite the continued decline in applications to modern foreign language degree courses.

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New Canaan Connecticut Students Learn Foreign Languages From a Young Age

This trend should become a national one! Good job, New Canaan schools!

Tyler Woods for New Canaan News, May 11, 2013:

Kids are learning second languages from a young age at New Canaan’s public schools.

Four years into a Foreign Language in the Elementary Schools program, which begins in kindergarten, the district has seen a tangible difference in the language abilities of its students.

“We are so there. And it’s so exciting,” Lizette D’Amico, K-8 World Language and K-12 English as a Second Language coordinator said, speaking of FLES at the May 6 Board of Education meeting.

One of the results of the program is that the district must now rewrite the foreign language curriculum for students in higher grades. For instance, fourth-graders who have taken a language since kindergarten are now much more proficient and would not find the previous curriculum challenging.

Mandarin was added as a language offered at Saxe Middle School this year. Thirty-six sixth-graders, 28 seventh-graders and 17 eighth-graders have enrolled to learn the official language and most popular language of China’s nearly 300. China’s economy became the second largest in the world in 2010, and its economy, measured by gross domestic product, grew by between 8 and 14 percent annually since 2000.

A global perspective has become part of the district’s outlook in recent years. On its 2013-14 budget documents, the district included “global citizenship” as one of its foremost expectations and aspirations.

At the high school level, Chinese ranks last in enrollment out of the four language options, with only about 6 percent of students enrolled in a foreign language at the high school taking it. Spanish is the most popular language, with roughly 70 percent of students who take foreign language enrolled.

But not enough kids are taking languages in their senior year, according to New Canaan High School Language Department Chairman Lisa Arbues. While around 90 percent of ninth- through 11th-graders are enrolled in foreign language, that number drops to the low 40s by senior year.

“Most students say, `Sorry … I’m doubling up in math, I’m doubling up in physics,'” Arbues said.

Board of Education members Penny Rashin and Alison Bedula suggested bringing back former students who continued with language in college to explain how sticking with it could help seniors down the road.

“Any of us who have had sophomores and juniors know they can’t look past their toes at some points,” Bedula joked, adding that hearing about the value of foreign language from their peers might be more useful than hearing it from teachers.

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Could Pictographs Eliminate Foreign Language Learning?

Anne Merritt for The Telegraph, April 9, 2013:

From Esperanto to SaypU writing, linguists have been trying simplify communication between cultures. Usually, these initiatives only produce small followings.

The thing is, there’s a system that can already surpass language barriers and communicate information: the pictograph.

The simple pictograph, seen in prehistoric cave drawings, refined in the scripts of ancient Egypt and Sumer, and still referenced today in written Chinese and Japanese. Now, thanks to digital communication (emojis, emoticons) and commonplace signage (the man/woman icon for “toilet”), pictographs are replacing the written word. According to some linguists, this trend will only increase.

In all parts of the world, people refer to pictographs daily. Public buildings use picture-based signs to direct visitors to the elevators, cafeterias, and lavatories. Cashiers at many fast food chains have pictographic registers, clicking on pictures of burgers and fries to input orders. Even popular game apps such as Angry Birds are languageless programs, guiding users with arrows and other icons.

Some linguists are predicting that this will be the future of language. Not a global lingua franca of English (or Mandarin, or Spanish), nor an overhaul of the written word to accommodate foreign language learners. Instead, as communication becomes more digital and visual, we will see more pictures in the place of written language.

Nowadays, pictographs are standardised in international transit hubs like airports and train stations. As these places expand their services, new icons are being created. Look around an airport and you’ll see wordless signs showing where to use wifi, get a shoe shine, or find the nearest bar. International travellers can navigate any airport thanks to these pictographs.

As communities become more multicultural, and as tourism increases, these icons will likely expand into urban areas. In 10 or 20 years, we will be able to navigate city maps, use a bank machine, order meals in restaurants… all without language barriers, or any written language at all.

The question is, if we can reduce language barriers in everyday situations, to what extent do we reduce the incentive for language learning? If we can navigate a foreign place with signs and pictures, doesn’t language study become a waste of time?

An increase in pictographs could certainly make travel easier, helping foreign visitors navigate cities and sites without worrying about communication breakdowns. It could also help immigrants and expats find the amenities they need when they first arrive in their adopted country of residence. For stopover tourists, or overwhelmed newcomers, these images can definitely reduce the urgency of language learning.

But while pictographs may help a person get around with minimal stress, they don’t really help human interaction. Most tourists I’ve met feel frustrated and embarrassed, pointing at pictures and making caveman-like noises to express a basic thought.

Also, while those travelling abroad may have less incentive to learn the local tongue, tourism isn’t the only motive for language learning. Many young Britons learn foreign languages as a career tool, and the demand for this job skill is increasing. Multinational companies seek workers with foreign language business skills, which means speaking, writing, and other communication. Even if pictographic signs pop up on every building in the country, the tourism industry will still look to hire staff that can talk to or correspond with foreign visitors.

Pictographs may help a multilingual community understand public signage in their area. It may simplify the use of automated machines like cashpoints and parking metres. When it comes to communicating with other people though, for work or pleasure, it can’t replace the old fashioned skill of knowing a foreign language.

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