Translation Culture

How to Achieve Lifelong Health and Success? Learn a Foreign Language!

Foreign Language

Countries around the world prioritize their language education to greater or lesser degrees. In the United States, less and less public funding is flowing to language instruction, while Europe has made strong commitments to foreign language study and their students’ achievement demonstrate the fruits of their investment. Not investing in foreign language might be undermining people’s health and academic success.

Studies in psycholinguistics and neurology have shown enormous benefits for bilingual people at different stages of their lives. Studies of bilingual toddlers show that, although they mix languages and struggle with speaking one language correctly in infancy, by age of three or four they tend to separate the two languages and display a fluency that cannot be replicated by adult foreign language learners. Learning a foreign language when as an adult takes more effort, and mastering it entirely becomes more difficult with age. Simply put, the earlier, the better.

Bilinguals and Superior Ability to Plan and Prioritize

Bilingual education develops the so-called “executive function,” which is the ability to plan, prioritize activities, and shift attention from one thing to another. Experiments with bilingual and monolingual children have shown that, even before they can speak, raising children in a bilingual environment speeds up the development their “executive function.” Additional studies show that regardless of when one learns a foreign language, people who can speak two or more languages have a superior ability to concentrate, creatively solve problems and focus.

Evidence of better health

In addition to one’s academic abilities, foreign language is good for your health. Studies have shown that bilinguals have later onset of Alzheimer’s disease, on average, than do monolinguals, and bilingualism can even help relieve brain injury. In a recent study of 600 stroke survivors in India, it was discovered that cognitive recovery was twice as likely for bilinguals as for monolinguals.

American vs European Achievement in Bilingual Education

Despite this overwhelming body of evidence, schools in the United States have been reducing foreign language requirements and enrollment in language classes has steadily declined. Presently only 7% of higher education students take a foreign language course.

This lack of faith in foreign language education in the United States is reflected in the dominant attitude that learning a foreign language is unnecessary. Speaking a foreign language is in many cases viewed negatively. The now famous Coca Cola ad “America the Beautiful” that aired during the 2014 Super Bowl featured dozens of people singing America the Beautiful in dozens of different languages. The reaction on Twitter and on social media included an outpouring of negative opinions like “This is America. We speak English.” Meanwhile, almost 40 million U.S. residents come from another country and do not communicate in English. This represents a reservoir of foreign language potential and cross-cultural experience sitting idle.

On the other hand, the European Union has been doing better at understanding the benefits of foreign language learning and education, perhaps because to exist as an entity it needs to celebrate its multilingual and multi-cultural nature. For several decades, the EU has demanded that children learn at least one foreign language and since 2002 it has strongly recommended that at least two foreign languages be taught to children from a very early age. Europe officially believes that foreign language education:

  • Strengthens social cohesion and intercultural dialogue in Europe
  • Improves the EU’s economy competitiveness worldwide
  • Promotes more employment opportunities and mobility within the EU
  • Generates much needed translation services within the EU as a way to circulate work and disseminate ideas

It is important for people and governments to recognize the value of foreign language learning and the importance of multi-cultural perspectives. Not doing so can be damaging for your country and for your health and success.

This article is written by a professional writer, Ilaria Ghelardoni, associated with Ulatus.  


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