Countries, like ours, where we speak English, which is now spoken all over the world, the learning/teaching of a second language does not seem to be a priority. Though we have second language programs in most school districts, students don’t usually start until high school, which is too late for them to gain command of the language, unless students continue studying it at the college level. The structure in the curriculum is often not very rigorous,so students’ command of the second language is at an intermediate level when they leave high-school.Independent schools are far better in this regard:students start early in lower school, and therefore, have significantly more time in acquiring the language, and it stays with them even after leaving high school. There is a consensus among linguists that the earlier you start teaching the second language, the easier it is for students to learn and acquire a better command.
But the real question is; why should we learn a new language? The answer is simple: For the many cognitive benefits we gain. Most of the research in this regard points to the fact that bilingualism provides a distinct cognitive advantage. It is like establishing two distinct pathways in the brain that offer opportunities to explore a problem from two different perspectives. I thought of writing this blog when I came across an article online that I had read in my graduate school. Ellin Bialystock writes in Reshaping the Mind: The Benefits of Bilingualism, “the constant use of two languages by bilinguals leads to changes in the configuration of the executive control network and results in more efficient performance on executive control tasks, even those that are completely nonverbal.”
A considerable amount of research done on Alzheimer’s disease indicates that bilingual brains are more competent in tackling the disease, at least in the early stage.The above article says, “Since bilingualism places constant pressure on the executive control system to manage attention to the target language, it is possible that this constant mental activity contributes to cognitive reserve … bilinguals should be able to cope with the early symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease more effectively than monolinguals.”
The point I am trying to make is that second language learning is not just another part of the humanities which can be ignored in an academic world that is ruled by science and business. Learning a second language offers some crucial cognitive benefits to our students, and therefore, we should start teaching a new language early and establish a continuity in its curriculum throughout the academic years of our students.