Find out why learning a new one is increasingly unpopular in schools but why it shouldn't be
18 October 2018| Last updated on 16 April 2019
Many British schoolchildren simply don’t see the point of learning a second language, when English is spoken by a quarter of the world’s population.
While around three-quarters of pupils studied a language other than English at GCSE level in 2002, two years later the government stopped making languages compulsory at GCSE.
And a 2016 English secondary schools review found only 34% of pupils obtained a good GCSE in a language - less than 5% did so in more than one language.
And those figures may dip further, as a recent British Council survey found just over a third of state schools felt leaving the EU was having a negative impact on student motivation and/or parental attitudes towards language learning.
Here are some of the many benefits of children learning a second language.
1. It’ll help them get a job in the future
When they’ve left school, if their C.V. includes fluency in a second language, they’ll have much better job prospects.
As companies are increasingly breaking into new markets, an employee who can communicate in another language is a valuable asset, and this will become more vital than ever when the UK leaves the EU.
Plus, the ability to speak a second language suggests you’re motivated and driven to learn new skills.
2. It improves brain power
Studies show multilingual people have higher density of grey matter, and older people who are bilingual tend to have better-maintained white matter in their brains (both are important for different brain functions).
Bilingual students also have higher scores in maths, reading comprehension, and vocabulary tests compared to their monolingual counterparts.
3. It improves memory
Bilingual people outperform monolingual people in spatial working memory tasks, and studies show bilinguals are better at retaining shopping lists, names and directions.
4. It helps delay the onset of dementia and Alzheimer’s
The onset of dementia and Alzheimer’s symptoms is significantly delayed – by as much as five years – in patients who are bilingual.
This may be linked to the fact that stimulating physical or mental activity, such as learning a language, can help maintain cognitive function.
5. Bilinguals are better at multitasking
Because bilingual people are used to switching between two languages, they’re also better at switching between tasks, even if these tasks are nothing to do with language.
6. After learning one language, it’s much easier to learn another
The positive cognitive effects of learning to speak a second language can train the brain to analyse and process different linguistic structures – a skill that can be applied to learning any language.
7. They will become more observant
A Spanish study found multilingual people are better at observing their surroundings – they’re more skilled at focusing on relevant information and editing out the irrelevant.
They’re also better at spotting misleading information.
8. It will improve their English
Learning a foreign language familiarises you with language systems including grammar, conjugations, and sentence structure, making you more aware of the ways language can be structured and manipulated.
These skills can make someone a more effective communicator in your mother tongue, and also a better listener, as people who speak another language are skilled at distinguishing meaning from discreet sounds.
9. They could make new friends
Speaking another language means your child can form friendships with people they otherwise wouldn’t be able to communicate with.