In modern education, it’s often considered common sense that bilingualism and language learning are important skills to be teaching students. But why is this the case? In this post, we’ll look at some of the reasons why language learning is important for students. If you are looking for more information, be sure to register for our upcoming webinar – “Enhancing Language Learning with Babbel for Education“. You can also explore language learning solutions for education at Studica.
Note: Most of the statistics in this post refer to the United States education system and demographics. Some of this information may not directly apply to countries outside the US.
Increasing Bilingual Population
The trend this data suggests is that more and more people are speaking a non-English language as time goes on. This trend is expected to continue. This will increase demand for language learning as individuals will be more exposed to a non-English language. They will want to learn new languages to better communicate with friends, family, peers, and colleagues.
Language Learning Requirements
Despite many K-12 public schools in the US lacking comprehensive language programs, the Modern Language Association estimates that roughly 50.7% of higher education institutions have a language requirement for a Bachelor’s program. This means that language learning for K-12 learners is important to ensure their success in higher education. Modern linguistics research suggests that learning a new language becomes increasingly difficult as you age. Even for college-age students, learning a second language can be very difficult if they had not started in their childhood. This means that the sooner students can start learning a second language, the more prepared they will be to tackle their language requirements in college.
While I don’t have direct stats for this claim, it is also common for many high schools to have a language requirement for graduation. In my home state of California, I remember having to take at least one year of a foreign language as part of my high school education back in the early 2000’s. This is common in many schools across California. Having a high school language requirement is not uncommon in many states with a high percentage of English Language Learners and a large minority population.
The global market is causing the world to seem increasingly small. Mass communications and technology have facilitated an increasingly global marketplace where workers who are bi and/or multilingual are in increasing demand.
A report from New American Economy found that the demand for bilingual workers is increasing and will continue to do so for some time. One of the most surprising stats they found was that, by 2015, the demand for bilingual workers in the US had more than doubled since 2010. One of the most important details about this demand is that it is spread across the job spectrum. The same report also found that blue-collar, white-collar, and overall middle-class jobs are all increasing in demand for bilingual workers.
Additionally, an increasing number of businesses are beginning to conduct business internationally. This is especially true for banks and health insurance industries who often interact with businesses and individuals from many countries. This is due to many emerging economies around the world. There are multiple countries currently undergoing a modern industrial revolution. They are seeing their GDP and market influence increase significantly. This phenomenon is creating an increasing need for individuals who can communicate with people in these countries and who understand their cultures.
So, what does this mean for language learning? Well, the upshot is that if you are bilingual or multilingual, then you are putting yourself at an advantage for finding employment. Additionally, bilingual college graduates earn, on average, a 2% higher salary than their monolingual peers, according to a research paper from MIT (Saiz, 2002). By providing a comprehensive language learning program for your students, you can better prepare them for more career opportunities and a higher salary in their professional careers.
Cognitive and Health Benefits
Modern linguistic research has increasingly found numerous mental health benefits associated with being bilingual or multilingual. One of the biggest differences between a bilingual and a monolingual is in executive control. “Executive control is the set of cognitive skills based on limited cognitive resources for such functions as inhibition, switching attention, and working memory” (Bialystok et al. 2012). Bilingual individuals have shown a proficiency in conflict management compared to monolingual peers. Bilinguals are also able to switch tasks more effectively than monolinguals, meaning they can adapt to new information quicker. Executive control is also thought to affect attention span and the ability to filter out irrelevant information. This means that bilinguals have shown an overall longer attention span and can more quickly parse relevant information related to what they are doing at the time.
Bilingualism and multilingualism are also associated with a later onset of dementia (Bialystok et al. 2012). This means that learning a second language can even help keep your brain sharp in your twilight years. Additionally, bilinguals have been shown to have much better episodic memory in their old age (Schroeder et al. 2012). Episodic memory is associated with recalling specific events in your life. There is also some research to suggest that bilingual and multilingual individuals with Alzheimer’s began to exhibit symptoms an average of 5.1 years later than monolingual individuals with Alzheimer’s (Marian & Shook, 2012).
Overall, teaching students a second language will help them with their attention, problem-solving skills, adapting to new information, delaying dementia, delaying Alzheimer’s, and having a better memory as they age.
Hopefully, this post gives you a better understanding of the importance of language learning. In the US, language education has often taken a backseat to other educational programs. But the data is increasingly suggesting that bilingualism is an important skill for the 21st century’s diverse and globalized world. Schools can easily facilitate language learning by using language learning software, like Babbel. The benefit of using software is that it is low-cost and portable. It can be used in a distance learning, immersive, or blended learning environment. The barrier to entry is low and even schools with limited funding can afford it.
If the US wants to remain competitive, our K-12 schools and colleges need to begin pushing for versatile, comprehensive language programs. With modern technology, it’s more affordable and portable than ever before.
Bialystok, E., Craik, F. I., & Luk, G. (2012, April). Bilingualism: Consequences for Mind and Brain. Retrieved December 19, 2017, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3322418/
Marian, V., & Shook, A. (2012, October 31). The Cognitive Benefits of Being Bilingual. Retrieved December 19, 2017, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3583091/
Schroeder, S. R., & Marian, V. (2012, August 01). A Bilingual Advantage for Episodic Memory in Older Adults. Retrieved December 19, 2017, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23175648/
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