While there are a variety of opportunities to stretch a child’s learning platform, one of the best may be the introduction and immersion into a foreign language at an early age. While there are a number of intrinsic cognitive benefits, there are also positive lifelong implications for the children.
According to Ertheo Education & Sport, “bilingual children learn faster and easier, have improved problem solving skills and creativity, and have more career opportunities in adulthood. They also find it easier to connect with other cultures which makes them more open-minded and tolerant of diversity, and they are less likely to experience age-related mental illness as they reach old age. Most importantly, it’s much easier to learn a second language at an early age.”
Teaching a second language to students early is also a proactive educational strategy as the linguistic diversity in the United States has begun to rapidly expand, particularly from 1980 to 2010 according to the National Library of Medicine which reported in 2014 that the number of people five years and older who spoke something other than English at home increased from 23.1 to 59.5 million.
Additionally, preparing students to be global learners may never have been more critical, especially in areas where the linguistic diversity dramatically trails other regions. For example, the United States, as a whole, reported over 20 percent of the population spoke a foreign language at home. However, the states of West Virginia, Mississippi, Kentucky, Montana, North Dakota, and Alabama reported a maximum of only five percent of their populations spoke another language. When students from these areas with limited linguistic diversity eventually compete with their more multi-lingual peers, rather for scholarship potential or even eventually for select job opportunities, it is very likely that more varied linguistic fluency will offer a more appealing candidate. Given that the dominant second language without a close competitor is Spanish, integration of this language into the curriculum at a very early age affords the future generations a very distinct competitive advantage.
Furthermore, the cognitive benefits recently reported by Jamie Kreps in “The Effects of Early Educational Bilingualism on Cognitive Development” show that students introduced to at least one, second language during their early educational years report elevated comprehension scores as well as superior skills in problem-solving over their singular language speaking peers. The research showed that early exposure to dual language environments can actually force children to “fine-tune their abilities to…establish a sense of compartmentalization – a skill crucial to later (more sophisticated) skill development.”
As the states within the country are currently gathering data and attempting to restructure their learning environments post-COVID-19’s wrath, it is definitely worth exploring the feasibility of adding a foreign language early in the curriculum. It’s inclusion, however, must not exist as an elective or temporary filler of time, but as an intrinsic learning component, essential to support and expand cognitive growth, as well as to develop lifelong learners who can communicate and lead in a variety of linguistic environments.
Perhaps the position is best summarized by Marisa J. Taylor, author of the children’s book, “Happy within” who shared, “The deepest connection you have with someone & their culture, is through learning their language.”
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.