Skip to main content

Encouraging bilingualism in education

Like many of my peers, I was not particularly fond of studying foreign languages when I was growing up. My view has changed considerably over the years however, and I have become increasingly appreciative of the merits of being able to communicate in different languages, I speak German and Farsi in addition to English. I have always felt that being multilingual has helped me think differently -- I have never been able to adequately put into words how this worked however.

After coming across an article last week in the New York Times called "The benefits of bilingualism," I felt somewhat vindicated. Of course, I am in no way suggesting that this article provides unequivocal proof that being bilingual provides greater cognitive acuity or may prevent against dementia etc. etc., but it is certainly worth considering. Indeed, the author of the aforementioned article provides unique examples of published literature on the topic which discuss such potential benefits.

I have brought forth this discussion because understanding how studying multiple languages improves learning, and cognition in general, has significant ramifications on how we ought to design curricula. Though it is true that many schools throughout the world encourage or enforce curricula which entail studying at least one foreign language, how much time that ought to be designated, when to begin such studies, how many languages to be taught and how long to enforce or encourage such education requires discussion.

Though some may argue that it may be difficult to find the time for foreign language training without taking away from other valuable courses such as math, it could also be argued that if studying foreign languages indeed provides increased cognitive abilities, then this may offset the amount of time required to learn other subjects.

It is also worthy to assess whether the benefits of multilingualism increases as the number of languages spoken increases, and whether these benefits can occur in those acquiring such skills later in life. If so, it should be questioned whether undergraduate students should be encouraged and supported to pursue foreign language training as part of their general curriculum.

The discussion of foreign language training for students of all ages is a unique way by which institutions can potentially augment their students performance in ways other than those of the tangible social benefits of being able to speak in multiple languages. I look forward to reading further research on the topic and welcome your input on the discussion below.