The Many Benefits of Foreign Language Education and Learning – Part II

As mentioned in my previous blog post, this three part blog series was inspired by an older post written by Bryant on “The Advantages of Speaking Several Languages.” The goal of this series is to explore the many benefits of foreign language education and learning, particularly in three main areas: health, social and economic. These three areas were chosen as a means to tie together and, in a way, simplify the main arguments found when doing research on the topic. While the previous post was on the many health benefits of foreign language education and learning, this particular post will focus on its social (and somewhat economic) benefits.

The Possibility of an Emancipatory Education

I would like to start off by sharing a shocking statistic: As reported by Amelia Friedman in “America’s Lacking Language Skills,” as of May 2015, less than 1 percent of American adults were proficient in a foreign language they studied in a U.S. classroom. Friedman highlights that this is a very important fact considering that 93 percent of high schools in the U.S. offered foreign language classes in 2008, according to a national survey.

It is clear that traditional language education is failing students. As a result, language education advocates are now pushing for dual-language or language immersion programs, which expose students to a foreign language on a day to day basis rather than for just a few hours per week.

Following is a summary of the main arguments for such programs (in no particular order):

1.1. Dual-language and language immersion education provides a legitimate opportunity to overcome traditional inequalities which plague American society.

Melinda D. Anderson cites an astonishing fact in her article “Bilingualism: When Education and Assimilation Clash,” that 24 percent of students enrolled in U.S. public K-12 schools in 2015 spoke a language other than English at home. Taking this into consideration, it is important to highlight that comprehensive language education in the U.S. can help both native and non-native English speakers. It is for this reason that dual-language and language immersion education is seen as an opportunity to help strengthen children’s cultural knowledge and pride; factors which according to Teresa L. McCarty, a professor of education and anthropology at UCLA quoted in “The Costs of English-Only Education,” are crucial to their cognitive and social development. These factors promote the academic and personal success of students by improving their self-esteem and self-efficacy.

Comprehensive language education also provides an opportunity to openly explore ethnicity, social status and other relevant social issues in the classroom. Anderson, in “The Economic Imperative of Bilingual Education,” speaks with Claudia G. Cervantes-Soon, an assistant professor of bilingual education at University of Texas at Austin, who explains the imperative of this:

“When language is used simply as a marketable resource that the dominant group can acquire to increase global competitiveness, all while language minority students are pushed into English assimilation, an entire history of civil rights struggles is undermined and we may lose sight of the opportunity for a truly emancipatory education.”

1.2. Dual-language and language immersion programs can potentially propel a much needed desegregation of the American public school system.

Anderson also mentions that such language programs have the potential of desegregating the U.S. public school system by revamping it with a more globally competitive curriculum and making it more attractive to affluent parents debating between public and private schools for their children. Enticing more affluent families to join the public education system would lead to a much needed diversification of the student population of public schools in America (by both race and class), a main reason why John B. King, Jr., acting Secretary of Education, is endorsing such programs.

For more information on public school segregation in the U.S. please visit the Urban Institute’s article entitled “America’s public schools remain highly segregated” by Jordan Reed.

2. Students benefit from dual-language and language immersion education by gaining more than just a language.

The two points previously developed also indirectly fall within this argument and so does my previous blog post on long-term health and cognitive benefits of foreign language learning, so I will make this point much more succinct than the preceding ones: Research shows two-language instruction is linked to stronger literacy and math skills, narrowing of achievement gaps, and higher graduation rates, regardless of students’ race and socioeconomic status.