By Kit Strauss, Crosswalk.com
You wouldn’t believe the things I’ve heard from parents when it comes to foreign language. A father tells me he transferred to another college to avoid the foreign language requirement. A parent pays a tutor thousands of dollars, only to discover that her son can’t speak the most basic of sentences after two years. The subject of foreign language can elicit strong emotions, like fear of teaching a subject you aren’t comfortable with, dread of teaching a subject you dislike, anger for money wasted, resentment that you have to teach it, and guilt for not starting sooner or at all.
These emotions are understandable. Many foreign language programs are ineffective, boring, or frustrating, and parents may not know what to look for to find a high-quality program. It’s not surprising, then, that many homeschool parents wait until high school, when foreign language is required, to deal with it or find a way to avoid it altogether.
So, is it really worth the effort to teach foreign language in your homeschool? Yes. The benefits are more significant than you may realize. Consider that learning a foreign language:
Develops the brain and improves cognitive functioning Research is unequivocal that learning a foreign language significantly improves cognitive functioning in numerous ways.1
One example: Alzheimer symptoms for adults who don’t speak a second language will present themselves several years earlier than in bilingual adults. In fact, bilingual adults often won’t begin manifesting symptoms until they have double the amount of brain damage that their monolingual equivalents have.2
More broadly, brain health is a significant concern now that we are living longer. One of the single best ways to prolong your brain quality is to learn a foreign language.3 So, if you’re uncomfortable teaching a foreign language because you don’t know the language, learn along with your children! Not only are you sending a positive message to your kids, but you’ll be doing something good for you!
To learn more about the incredible cognitive benefits of learning a foreign language, check out my article, The Benefits of Learning a Foreign Language for Your Brain.
Makes it easier for your child to learn multiple languages The hardest language to learn is your second. It’s a second language that rewires the brain and develops the neurological pathways in the language center that then enables students to learn additional languages more easily. A child’s brain is uniquely structured to learn new sounds and understand multiple languages. In this area, the adolescent brain (∼13+) is not much different than an adult brain. This window cannot be opened again later.4
Makes your child more competitive for college and jobs Nowadays, your children compete with international students in college admissions and job applications. International students usually know at least two languages, putting monolinguals at a disadvantage.
Increases pay In the workplace, employees who know more than one language often receive higher pay. Homeschool parents regularly tell me they earn more because they know a certain language.
Develops confidence and pride Children who speak more than one language have a strong sense of confidence. Their sense of accomplishment crosses over into other aspects of their lives.
Develops empathy and awareness of other perspectives Research shows that children who learn foreign languages are more aware of other people’s perspectives. They tend to be more open-minded and empathetic to their peers.5
Research shows that to develop the amazing cognitive benefits that go along with learning a new language, students must learn using immersion, with as little use of translation as possible.6 A brain learning a new language becomes stronger and more flexible as it works to figure out the connections between the language used and the context. Learning with translation circumvents this process. There is nothing for the brain to figure out, and the learning becomes an exercise in memorization.
I have seen firsthand these benefits—and many more—with my own children. Knowing multiple languages has opened incredible doors for them, broadened their friendships, and helped to make them kind and accepting young men.
Choose a language, and start your children learning today. They may not realize the value now, but before you know it, they will be heartily grateful that you put in the effort.
Endnotes: 1. Language Learning Makes the Brain Grow, Swedish Study Suggests, Science Daily, Web. 12 Apr. 2016; McElroy, Molly. Bilingual Baby Brains Show Increased Activity in Executive Function Regions. University of Washington, Web. 2 May 2016. Exposure to Two Languages Carries Far-reaching Benefits, ScienceDaily, Web. 2 May 2016. 2. First Physical Evidence Bilingualism Delays Onset of Alzheimer’s Symptoms, Science- Daily, Web. 12. Apr.2016. 3. Carmona, Richard (17th Surgeon General of the U.S.). Canyon Ranch 30 Days to a Better Brain: A Groundbreaking Program for Improving Your Memory, Concentration, Mood, and Overall Well-Being, Atria Books, 2014. 4. Exposure to Two Languages Carries Farreaching Benefits, ScienceDaily, Web. 2 May 2016. 5. Kinzler, Katherine, The Superior Social Skills of Bilinguals, New York Times, Web. 2 May 2016. 6. Ellen Bialystok & Raluca Barac (2012). Emerging bilingualism: Dissociating advantages for metalinguistic awareness and executive control. Cognition, 122, 67-73.
Copyright 2019, The Old Schoolhouse®. Used with permission. All rights reserved by the Author. Originally appeared in the Spring 2019 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the trade publication for homeschool moms. Read The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine free at www.TOSMagazine.com, or download the free reader apps at www.TOSApps.com for mobile devices. Read the STORY of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine and how it came to be.
About Kit: Kit Strauss obtained her law degree from the University of Virginia and graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Cornell University. She left law to care for her children, becoming involved in their education and wanting them to learn a foreign language early. Frustrated with poor quality programs and products teaching foreign language, Ms. Strauss spent a decade creating fun activities to help her children learn French and Spanish. From these experiences and her love of education, she developed Foreign Languages for Kids by Kids®, a new way to learn foreign language that has already proven successful for many children (foreignlanguagesforkids.com).
Photo Credit: ©DragonImages/happykidlearning