General Academic is a strong proponent for the study of foreign languages; more than 70% of our brilliant tutors are competent in a language other than English. Foreign language study increases cognitive capability, workforce competitiveness, and enables a deeper understanding of other cultures and societies.
Foreign Language COnsiderations
As parents will find later in the data section of this website, foreign language study options are plentiful in Houston. Understandably, almost every Houston-area school with a foreign language program offers Spanish; French, Chinese Mandarin, and Latin follow in popularity. As China’s economy grows ever stronger, so has its popularity in schools; in 2013, Chinese overtook Latin in popularity and is quickly finding favor over French. Students also benefit from Texas’s embrace of the International Baccalaureate curriculum. Schools offering the IB curriculum (nearly ten profiled in this book) are technically required to offer all of the IB’s many courses, including more than fifty languages.
Numerous research studies (too many to cite here) have demonstrated a positive correlation between the study of foreign language and increased cognitive ability. A 1999 study1 among middle school students found that students randomly assigned to learn 30 minutes of Spanish three times a week scored significantly higher in math and language skills than non Spanish learners on a standardized achievement test.
Most recently, a Swedish study2 found that language learning leads to brain growth in the hippocampus and cerebral cortex, parts of the brain that are correlated with better cognitive and motor skills. The key takeaway from these studies is that language learning also increases students’ cognitive abilities particularly in analytical and interpretative capabilities leading to higher English, math, and science scores.
Knowing a second language increases an applicant’s competitiveness in the job market. The importance of foreign language skills for increased market competitiveness was perhaps best highlighted when President George W. Bush announced a national $175 million initiative in 2006 to train more students. Governments and corporations need Americans who can seamlessly work with colleagues from international offices, translate multinational documents, and serve clients from around the world.
Finally and perhaps most difficult to quantify is how knowing another culture’s language broadens one’s horizons and provides new and different perspectives. Many of General Academic’s clients have traveled abroad to non-English speaking countries like Germany or China as English-only speakers.
However, knowing the native tongue opens up so many more opportunities for exploration and cultural exchange. For example, most Americans know that 13 is an unlucky number. In China, the unluckiest number is four, because its pronunciation is nearly identical as the Mandarin word for death! Armed with this knowledge, Americans would be well advised to not order four dishes when dining with their Chinese friends or perhaps not to schedule a flight for a Chinese client at 4:44 in the afternoon.
Article last updated on March 5, 2014.
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