Benefits of students learning a second language

There’s little argument that having students learn a second language is a beneficial and worthwhile endeavor. Very few, if any, educators disagree with that stance.

To get the most out of having students learn a second language – and there are many advantages that directly apply in the context of education – it’s not enough to recognize the positives. Administrators and educational leaders need to have a firm understanding of how this process engages, improves and fuels students’ capabilities for learning, understanding and interpreting. With that knowledge in hand, effective academic plans that tap into the specific benefits of learning a second language can be developed and deployed.

The major benefits instruction in a second language provides

In order to maintain a strong grasp on the individual benefits of students learning a second language, teachers must have an understanding of the best possible results they wish their learners to achieve. Here are some of the biggest positive changes created by that process, and a look at how educational leaders can incorporate them into strategies that stretch across a school or entire district.

Enhanced reading ability

The exact cognitive mechanisms that make students learning a second language and natively bilingual learners better readers than strictly monolingual pupils aren’t always clear. However, the results are. The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages cited numerous comparative studies on the performance of students with some level of second-language proficiency as compared to learners lacking that educational element.

Improved performance in areas such as word-reading and spelling have been noted, along with general comprehension benefits that increase with longer periods of foreign-language instruction. For educators in elementary and middle schools, understanding this general reading benefit is the key to boosting students’ ability to learn and educational results. When educators have a strong grasp of students’ second-language aptitude, they can create curricula that takes increased reading proficiency into account.

For principals, superintendents and other leaders, this fact helps develop effective reading strategies across schools or districts. It is also another powerful reference point when arguing for adding or increasing instruction in a second language.

Increased creativity

A creative mind is an incredibly valuable asset for anyone, student or adult. The ability to think outside of established patterns and workflows regularly leads to positive changes and improvements, from students in a visual arts class to professionals following career paths. Education in a second language is recognized as enhancing the problem-solving abilities of people of all ages, according to Joseph Cardillo, Ph.D.

The internal skills required to switch back and forth between two languages helps learners realize different ways of viewing the same situation. Without the restriction of a single language system that in many ways forces the mind to view events and ideas through a specific lens or process, new thoughts and ideas can develop. This opening of cognitive patterns isn’t limited to language, either – it spills over into many other aspects of life inside and outside of education.

Teachers can feel more confident in assigning work that involves a creative component and creates a richer classroom environment because of it. These assignments nurture this aspect of students’ thinking and encourage further creative development. It’s up to educational leaders and administrators to make this correlation clear and encourage teachers to appropriately prioritize creative work for students learning a second language.

Closing achievement gaps

Achievement gaps are frustrating for all educators. While teachers and administrators can’t address every single factor that leads to them, taking second-language education into account can lead to more positive outcomes across the board.

Foreign-language education is proven to increase student performance across all socioeconomic indicators and levels. A meta-analysis of research gathered by the National Education Association found strong benefits in terms of closing achievement gaps for students learning a second language, no matter their background.

One especially powerful result, from the article “Learning a Second Language: Exposing Your Child to a new World of Words Boosts Her Brainpower, Vocabulary and Self-Esteem” by L.S. Dumas in Child magazine, demonstrated the wide-ranging effects of students learning a second language. In a survey of 13,200 third- and fifth-grade students across Louisiana’s public schools, higher achievement in the English portion of the state’s standardized skills test was noted across the board by students that were learning a second language, as compared to monolingual students.

That improvement was demonstrated no matter the race, gender or level of academic achievement of the student in question. Such a powerful and positive sweeping change is rare in the educational world, and is, therefore, something that principals, superintendents and other educational leaders and administrators need to emphasize. Placing all students on a higher pedestal in terms of their educational standing means teachers and leaders can create a more successful educational environment in the long run.

Listening abilities improve

Educators want a class that’s attentive and engaged. While instruction in a second language doesn’t always ensure students are fully involved in the material presented, it objectively increases their ability to listen and process information. A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America found students with some level of dual-language proficiency can understand and process sounds better than students who know only one language.

Students learning two languages also derive advantages in terms of executive function from that aspect of education, as compared to students lacking that component. The dual-language learners have a greater capacity for understanding spoken language overall, which can translate to a number of advantages inside the classroom.

Educators can benefit from this advantage without even realizing it, as students expend less effort simply listening to information. In turn, that means more energy and mental bandwidth can be spent taking notes, participating in discussions and processing the information. Ultimately, these students can become more engaged learners and realize better outcomes throughout their educational careers.

Taking the next step with the University of Cincinnati graduate certificate in TESOL program

The University of Cincinnati online graduate certificate in TESOL program offers educators and educational leaders the opportunity to improve both instructional theory and practical knowledge in this field. Participants learn how students speaking a second language differ from native speakers and develop valuable, effective strategies for instructing those pupils. The online presence of the program means educators can participate while continuing in their current roles, a significant benefit. To learn more, click here.


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