Adults undoubtedly recall their school days when schedules included a class devoted to foreign languages. Some students embrace foreign language classes, while others may question their value. Those in the latter camp may be surprised to learn just how much they benefit from studying a foreign language.
Foreign languages and long-term cognitive health
Dementia might not be foremost on the minds of school-aged youngsters, but their foreign language class could be delaying its onset by a significant margin. A 2010 study published in the peer-reviewed journal Neurology found that bilingual patients with probable Alzheimer’s disease reported the onset of symptoms 5.1 years later than monolingual patients. Authors of the study concluded that lifelong bilingualism confers protection against the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, which underscores the value of learning a foreign language as a young person and maintaining that knowledge throughout adulthood.
Foreign languages and attention span
A recent study from Microsoft found that the average attention span is now eight seconds, which marks a significant decline since 2000, when the average attention span was 12 seconds. Researchers behind the report suggest the prevalence of screens, particularly the use of multiple screens at once, has led to that decline. But bilingual individuals may be able to buck that trend. Researchers at the School of Psychology at the University of Birmingham suggest that bilingualism could lead to better sustained attention and attentional monitoring, thus improving students’ ability to remain focused and block out distractions.
Foreign languages and multi-tasking
Most adults likely need no reminder that the current world is one that requires an ability to multi-task. Learning a foreign language can make it easier to navigate that world. A 2012 study funded by the National Institutes of Health found that bilingual children had a greater ability to multi-task than monolingual children. The NIH study utilized a switching task to gauge monolingual and bilingual children’s ability to pay attention, plan, organize, and strategize. Bilingual children were faster at switching than their monolingual counterparts, which could set them up to be more successful in a world that has increasingly valued the ability to multi-task.
Foreign language courses do more than teach kids how to speak a non-native tongue. The benefits of such courses on students’ brains is well-documented and can produce some immediate and long-lasting results.