Second Language Learners Advantage on Academic Results

Second Language Learners Advantage on Academic Results

In an increasingly globalized world, second language acquisition has gradually become more relevant. Besides the many practical benefits that come with knowing a foreign language, research shows learning a new language makes you smarter, especially if you do so from a young age. According to Dr. Antonella Sorace, professor at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, people who speak two languages often outperform monolinguals on general measures of executive function. Bilinguals can pay attention without being distracted. Also, they possess improved ability to switch from one task to another1.

Second Language Learning, Positive Effect on Test Scores

Research has shown that learning a new language has a positive impact on students’ test scores across different subjects. Assimilating a new language increases brain connectivity. In some learners, it also has cognitive benefits in aspects like memory2. These benefits allow students to transfer skills gained in language learning to other subjects such as Mathematics and Reading.

A study conducted by Paula Saunders in 1998 revealed that younger students who had received foreign language instruction for five years scored significantly higher in Mathematics than those who hadn’t received any foreign language instruction3. Another study tracked the performance of third graders who were taught Spanish for thirty minutes, three times per week for one semester. The results showed statistically significant gains in the areas of Mathematics and English Language after testing4.

Research as back as 1987 confirms that students who study foreign languages for longer periods did better on various SAT sub-tests and the test as a whole. The performance was worse on students who studied a foreign language for shorter periods, even when the variable of verbal giftedness was controlled5.

Bilinguals Are Problem Solvers

When acquiring a second language, two key elements come into place. The brain development and the cultural cues behind the language. Each equips students with a different set of tools to become better problem solvers.

There is plenty of evidence that in a bilingual’s brain both language systems are active, even when only one is being used. This forces the brain to resolve internal conflict, giving the mind a workout that strengthens its cognitive muscles. Studies suggest that bilinguals experience an improvement in the executive function of the brain. It allows them to ignore distractions and stay focused, switch attention quickly from one thing to another, and to retain information6.

On the other hand, each language carries its own cultural background, with it a set of perspectives and behaviors. Being exposed to a new set of perspectives enables students to react faster to obstacles and enhances their capacity to continuously solve problems. Bilinguals are better at adapting and reacting to different environments.

A study conducted by Strathclyde University found that second language learning can have demonstrable benefits, not only in language, but also in arithmetic and problem-solving. Moreover, it enables children to think creatively7.

The Impact of a Second Language in the School Environment

Studies covering six states and 37 districts have found that dual-language students have better attendance, fewer behavioral problems and higher parent involvement 8 than students in English-only classrooms or one-way immersion.

Implementing a foreign language curriculum could result in a more empathetic environment amongst learners.The consensus amongst researchers is that, even four spoken languages don’t determine what we think, they do influence how we think, feel and behave in subtler ways. This includes how and when we experience empathy9.

Second language acquisition results in a higher skill at understanding other people, even when the words they use are imprecise.

Both empathy and higher engagement result in positive outcome in the school environment, both academically and emotionally.

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