The Three C’s of Bilingual Benefits
When it comes to education, the topic of foreign languages lies at the forefront of many discussions.
While some countries, such as Korea, Japan, and China have already implemented language education policies, America is still hesitant to follow suit. This country, being a world superpower, crucially needs a population equipped with the ability to connect to different cultures and peoples across the world. Although some may argue that learning a second language seems superfluous, the benefits clearly overwhelm any potential costs. In order to aggrandize future employment opportunities, enhance basic cognitive functioning, and furthermore expand the next generation’s understanding of cultural diversity, schools should encourage and mandate bilinguistic learning. Throughout the course of the past century, society has become increasingly globalized, prompting a surge in the need for bilingualism in an attempt to effectively communicate with international clients or coworkers.
With the job market’s competitive nature these days, businesses in America are continually searching for potential employees that stand out among the crowd. When asked what qualities stand out most on a resume, an astonishing number of employers replied with “versatility, and the ability to communicate with a foreign clientele base” (Finn). Moreover, bilinguals often see bigger numbers on their paychecks at the end of each month. Rosetta Stone, a leading language-learning company, reports that a bilingual employee earns roughly $10,000 more annually than his or her English exclusive counterpart. Furthermore, 17% of polyglots earn over $100,000 per year (Andruss). The usefulness of the decision to double down on languages, albeit difficult, is immensely apparent.
The employee would be better equipped to communicate with a larger array of the company’s clients and workers alike, permitting for higher managerial positions, and a consequentially higher paycheck. Neuroplasticity refers to the human brain’s innate ability to alter its own neural pathways and cortices in the face of both adversity and learning. These changes in the neurological structure, sometimes dubbed “cortical remapping”, often yield incredible results in a person’s mental functioning. A school’s inclusion of foreign languages classes into curricula would bring along a plethora of cognitive benefits to the student body. Scientific studies have proven that bilinguals are not only better at monitoring changes in their environments than their monolinguistic peers, but also more efficient, using less brain activity in associated areas (Bhattacharjee). As a speaker becomes more proficient in a second language, the mind becomes more productive.
This increase in performance is most apparent in the frontal and parietal lobes of the brain, which are involved with decision making and judgement, and integrating sensory information, respectively. In this way, the manner that the neurological structure processes information is altered as a new language is learned. Recently, researches have discovered that bilinguals possess high volumes of grey and white matter in the aforementioned lobes, shining new light on the idea that the brain’s physiological structure can be beneficially altered in the presence of a foreign language (Marian). All evidence considered, a learner of a second language is rewarded with an elevated attention span, improved information processing, and even enriched defense mechanisms against degenerative neurological diseases including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Arguably the most overlooked advantage of bilingualism, the ability to connect with a great aggregation of peoples is invaluable. This idea of personally relating with a person of a different language is best highlighted by the words of former South African President Nelson Mandela: “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head.
If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.”Unfortunately, many American adolescents have become progressively ethnocentric, with the mindset that foreigners should learn and speak English if they want to communicate. This concept in itself is unnerving, as it breeds ideas of discrimination and disregard of other cultures. By educating a child early on about different world cultures, the perspective that a single race or ethnicity is superior is replaced with a mindset of equality and cooperativeness (Levitt). Schools spend a countless amount of time and resources promoting anti-bullying campaigns, instead of simply instilling multicultural values in children at a young age. These ideals can easily be achieved via foreign language education in schools.
Admittedly, present day technology comes equipped with various applications that are capable of translating pages of foreign documents, and software that is capable of instantly translating speech is progressing swiftly. One might say that the use of electronic translations will eventually make learning a second language obsolete. However, nothing could replace the personal touch of interacting with somebody directly, and the cognitive benefits of foreign language education will always be present. Computers, as good as they are, also contain a margin of error as they translate the speech or text directly, and are simply not able to adequately capture the subtleties of conversation. One might think that schools would push for foreign language programs considering the substantial benefits and advantages a bilingual has in the world today. The reality of the situation, though, leaves a lot to be desired.
While some schools have taken a step in the right direction by encouraging enrollment in foreign language classes, laws should be passed to mandate the integration of bilinguistic learning in curricula across the nation. Such a simple change in education will better equip America’s youth to engage and connect with foreign cultures, to stand out in the ever-competitive job market, to have a more productive and efficient mind, and to help shape an internationally cooperative future, for the generations here and to come.