By Allyson Forseth
While taking World Language classes is an easy decision for some, for others, the choice is not so clear. With so many interesting, engaging, and rigorous course options available to current students, it can be hard to know what to prioritize when building a schedule. A junior might think, “Do I take French 4, or do I double up on math this year to get into AP Calc?” A senior might ask themself, “Should I sign up for AP Spanish or focus my time on Science electives?” As a former high school Spanish teacher, I am more than familiar with these questions. While there is no one-size-fits-all answer, one thing is clear: learning another language comes with a wide variety of benefits to consider. These relate to many aspects: college admissions, future hiring potential, travel opportunities in college and beyond, cultural awareness, linguistic understanding, and even lifelong cognition.
- College Admissions: So, do colleges really prefer applicants with 4 years of world language classes on their transcript? While this depends greatly on the individual college or university, it appears that sticking with world language classes is recommended by most and required by many.
- I asked Liz, Harvard alum and Galin Education’s Director of College Counseling, for her take. She said, “In my experience, most colleges require two years of the same language in high school and encourage students to take more than that. I think many colleges consider world languages to be sort of a “core” academic subject, similar to science or social studies; taking four years of a language is not necessarily an admissions requirement, but it is recommended.”
- Princeton University’s Director of Admissions, Steve LeMenager, is quoted as saying, “Our recommendation is that students take 4 years of a single language, believing that in a language is preferable to not quite achieving proficiency in two languages.”
- Career: The advantages of learning another language do not stop after graduation! But are employers really more interested in multilingual candidates? Studies show that applicants with proficiency in multiple languages listed on their resume can be more competitive. Employers and business owners in a growing number of fields are seeking multilingual and multicultural candidates to more effectively provide services to clients from different backgrounds, decrease the impact of language barriers, and keep up with the demands of globalization. Recent statistics state that 9 out of 10 U.S. employers rely on college graduates with language skills other than English, and 56% of U.S. employers say that their language skill demand will increase in the next five years. Some studies have even found that, on average, multilingual employees make more money throughout their lifetime than their monolingual peers.
- Chris, Galin’s Director of Enrichment, shared her son’s experience: “Being fluent in another language can open doors of opportunity. My son has studied Spanish from middle school, through high school, and now into college. He is able to apply his language skills at the retail store where he works to speak with customers whose primary language is Spanish. This has been a huge help to the store and its customers. He plans to minor in Spanish in college, knowing that the ability to communicate in another language will be useful in any career he chooses.”
- Cultural & Linguistic Awareness: A commonly-cited quote about language learning says, “Learning another language is not only learning different words for the same things, but learning another way to think about things.” It sounds nice, but is it true? Studies have shown that the language a person speaks directly influences their thought processes and frame of understanding. Thus, the more languages spoken, the more points of view that can be accessed and understood.
- I asked Gabbi, one of Galin Education’s Coaches, to talk a bit about how her proficiency in Spanish has benefitted her. She said, “I can tell you that learning a language has helped me develop more cultural awareness and become more deliberate in my language use. Learning Spanish helped me develop innovative study skills, connect with people across differences, and empathize with students and friends who are learning English or another language. It has helped me professionally because I can communicate with families who speak Spanish only, Spanish-speaking students who are just learning English, and I conduct research in Spanish, too. Probably the biggest benefit for me personally is being able to communicate with my family members in Puerto Rico who speak only Spanish. I never would have been able to forge the connections I have with them and learn about my family history if I hadn’t learned Spanish.”
- Sylvia, a trilingual Galin Fellow, said that learning a third language actually helped her to better understand her first languages: “Learning French as a teenager helped me understand the structure of language and have a deeper understanding of grammar rules in both English and Spanish.”
- Cognition: Finally, how does knowing more than one language affect our brains? Studies have found a number of cognitive benefits among multilingual individuals when compared to their monolingual counterparts. For example, a study published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information found that multilingual individuals enjoyed increased attention, multi-tasking abilities, flexibility/adjustment, and even found a decrease in aging-related cognitive decline.
- The study said, “The bilingual brain can have better attention and task-switching capacities than the monolingual brain… In addition, bilingualism has positive effects at both ends of the age spectrum: Bilingual children as young as seven months can better adjust to environmental changes, while older bilingual people enjoy improved memory and executive control relative to older monolingual people… In addition to staving off the decline that often comes with aging, bilingualism can also protect against illnesses that hasten this decline, like Alzheimer’s disease.”
From college admission to career readiness and beyond, the benefits of learning another language are difficult to ignore. While careful consideration of one’s unique situation is important, it is clear that, whether or not an individual plans to apply to a highly selective university, study abroad during college, or work for an international company, world language learning can provide individuals with a host of advantages.
Allyson is Galin Education’s Assistant Director. She is teaching a Spring Enrichment Course titled “Conversational Spanish.” For more information, click here.