The first question: Why learn a second (or third language)?
In the world, bilingualism is more the norm than the exception, as 75% of the world is actually bilingual (Baker, 2000) and it is on the rise. With more and more people relocating to foreign countries it is very common to have two or more languages spoken within a home.
The second question: When to learn a second language?
There is no “correct” age to learn a foreign language, as Edinburgh University researchers point out that “millions of people across the world acquire their second language later in life: in school, university, or work, or through migration or marriage.” Knowing another language is advantageous, regardless of when you learn it. Even more encouraging is that bilingual benefits still hold for those of us who do not learn our second languages as children. However, the earlier one starts, the more beneficial it is to learn a second language. As a matter of fact, babies can differentiate all the sounds of language before 10 -12 months, then they start to lose this capacity according to the sounds they find useful (their own language). Therefore, it’s good to expose babies to many different languages so they retain this ability.
The third question: What are the advantages of learning a second language?
1.Access to a larger world: When you learn a language you also learn the culture. Being able to speak two languages means you are able to speak to people in a different cultural and linguistic contexts. Bilinguals can use the right language with the social codes that go with the language. In other words you are able to step into another culture and better understand the subtleties of the human condition.
2.Better ability to focus : Bilinguals find it easier to focus and can avoid distractions (Dr. Judy Willis, 2012). Indeed, the part of the brain called the executive function, which is used for staying focused has proven to be stronger in bilinguals. Every time a bilingual speaks, both languages are actually active, and the brain has to work to suppress one language while the other is being used. That mechanism employs the executive function of the brain more regularly in bilinguals, which makes it become more efficient.
3.Better at multitasking : Studies have shown that people who are bilingual are better at tasks that require multitasking and focusing attention than monolinguals. Brain scans show that these bilinguals show more gray matter in the regions of their brain that are involved in executive function. The hypothesis is that the effort to constantly choose the right language at the right time provides a “mental gymnastics” for bilinguals which gives them extra practice in focusing their attention. Research even shows that learning a language helps delay Alzheimer’s disease (Dr. Ellen Bialystok).
4. Higher standardized tests and academic performance: Another one of the many benefits of learning a second language at an early age is improved test scores. Students who study foreign languages perform better on standardized tests such as the American College Test (ACT) and the SAT verbal sections. In fact, students test scores improve with the length of time they have spent learning a second language. Exercising one’s brain leads to improved planning, problem-solving, and concentrating. This brain exercise leads to improved planning, problem-solving, concentrating, and multitasking, as well as divergent and creative thinking.
5.Linguistic facilities: Being bilingual helps you learn another language. As you are constantly switching from one language to another you become accustomed to expressing yourself in a different way. Moreover, you have been exposed to two sets of sound patterns rather than one. This gives you more chances to encounter known sounds in the new language. All this combined makes learning an additional language easier.
6.Deep understanding of the concept of “language”: Bilinguals have a deeper appreciation of what is a language. They know that there is more than one way to label a word and that a word can have different connotations. As Professor Clyne says: “They [Bilinguals] have a better sense of the arbitrary nature of words, and the difference between form and meaning.”
7.Lifetime benefits: Learn a foreign language as a child and you have a lifetime to benefit from cross-cultural friendships, broader career opportunities, exciting travel adventures and deeper insights into how others see the world.
So, to answer the question: why learn a second (or third) language at Tessa? Tessa International School, a thriving international school in Hoboken, NJ, teaches through the languages of Spanish and French in the IB-PYP model, starting at the age of 2.5. And in 2020-2021 Tessa will be offering a Mandarin track as well! Bilingualism. Excellence. Happiness. That’s the Tessa Advantage.