Speaking a foreign language helps us learn more about other people and their culture and is instrumental in revealing more about the world and discovering its beauties. If one is not capable of achieving communication in a foreign country, the feeling is that of living with a serious shortcoming or deficiency. Without understanding foreign languages and the ability to communicate using them, our ability to meet new people, socialize, and adapt to the new environment is hindered.
As globalization gains momentum, the ability to communicate in more languages has taken on an added importance. The ability to communicate with your clients or business partners in their mother tongue, or at least in English, which is nowadays lingua franca, will give you an upper hand in comparison to those not possessing such ability – you may find work more easily, and even get high-paying, upscale jobs. Speaking at least one foreign language, or even more than one, is every child’s prerequisite for a future successful career.
There is a massive difference between learning and acquiring a foreign language. Acquiring a second language is an unconsciousness process where a child is mastering a language of the environment by listening and imitating it; much like acquiring mother tongue. A child may acquire a foreign language through conversation and playing with family members, by means of picture books, educational games, cartoons, etc. On the other hand, learning a second language is a conscious process requiring special effort. Children should be exposed to a foreign language in a way allowing it to be spontaneously adopted, not consciously learned.
Bilingual experience improves brain function
A recent study looked into the intelligence and mental capacity of children who have been using two or more languages from an early age. The study found that a bilingual experience improves the so called executive brain function, a command system directing the attention processes we use for planning, solving problems, and performing various mentally demanding tasks. This means that a person can easily focus on something, but also stay focused, willingly shift attention from one thing to another, and remember certain information for a longer period. Furthermore, speaking foreign languages gives a competitive advantage in finding different information and learning more about the world and different cultures. In this way, parents who get their children interested in learning foreign languages actually give them a huge advantage in comparison to other children.
Being able to speak multiple languages practically means that we are getting smarter; this knowledge significantly influences the brain development and improves cognitive skills. Switching from one language to another is an excellent exercise for the brain, giving it flexibility and has beneficial effects in the long run – cognitive aging appears later among bilingual persons, and the onset of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease is delayed on average by as much as five years in comparison to monolingual population. The incidence of these diseases decreases in direct proportion to the increase in the knowledge of foreign languages.
European Day of Languages
Since 2001, the year that was proclaimed the European Year of Languages by the Council of Europe, every September 26th saw the celebration of the European Day of Languages. Today, between six and seven thousand languages are spoken in the world, and as much as 97% of the population speaks four percent of modern live languages. There are 24 official languages in the European Union. Two thirds of the working population in the EU speaks at least one foreign language, while in countries like Sweden, Latvia, Denmark, and Lithuania, almost every adult citizen speaks an additional language besides mother tongue. Luxembourg boasts the highest degree of multilingualism with more than a half of the total number of citizens speaking at least three foreign languages.
Learning a foreign language must not be a luxury and a privilege of few, but one of the key elements of primary education to be introduced at the earliest possible age. If, as a responsible society and nation, we wish to prepare our children to become a future generation of entrepreneurs, doctors, scientists, engineers, or any other profession they may choose, we must establish the environment which encourages the learning of foreign languages. In that way, our society will be on the path of development, success, and security, and even our own prosperity, and the prosperity of our children and all generations to come is guaranteed.