As the European Day of Languages dawns upon us once more – an enriching annual event which reminds us about the importance of learning languages in order to communicate with our European neighbours – it seems appropriate to write about the benefits of learning a language.
Never has it seemed more important to learn a language, as the world shifts and changes, and as the potential for conflict lurks amongst the major stresses which we all face – in our individual lives, in our communities and, increasingly, on a global scale, as the climate emergency takes hold. We all need to learn to work together to tackle the issues which will arise.
But what are the benefits for children learning a language?
In a sense, it is obvious why we should all learn at least one other language – how else can we communicate? This is not only a functional, transactional matter; an increasing number of children have a rich mixed heritage and have grandparents – and parents – whose native language differs from the language of the culture in which they find themselves operating; for children to be able to communicate in more than one language opens the doors to a deeper appreciation of their own background and culture.
Even if a child is being brought up in a monolingual family, however, the advantages of learning a language are numerous. Learning a language does indeed make you smarter – a recent article in Wellbeing in International Schools Magazine described research which points to greater neural connectivity in children who can speak more than one language. Moreover, the career advantages of being able to speak more than one language, in addition to English, are well documented. If two candidates pitch up for a job, both equally well-qualified, and one has an additional language… well, the choice is obvious. By laying foundations for language acquisition in childhood, parents are prepping their children for their professional success.
Above all, however, the experience of learning a language teaches children how to learn, and – done well – also helps them to learn how they learn best. Learning sits at the heart of our society for a reason: it is how we develop and then work out how to solve the issues that face us, but more importantly, it is what keeps us fresh, engaged, interested and alive to the opportunities that will enable us to live a fulfilling and successful life. Learning really matters – and learning how to learn is one of the singularly most important things we can do in our life.
A habit of learning – like any habit – is best when it starts young, and learning a language is one of the most interesting and fulfilling ways to kickstart this habit. Start small, aim high… a great motto for European Day of Languages 2021!