Hi, guys! It’s Cotton (🐤@norinoricotton)😄
This is a pretty long article I wrote when I was in university. This time I will be talking about bilingual education in modern educational systems, and the multiple benefits of learning a new language, connecting with my own experiences and background as a multilingual. I hope you enjoy it!
Learning a new language is not easy at all, in which many people would agree. Yet, I assure you that it is worthy to learn a new language, and this is not just about obtaining a new skill, but something one can apply to their relationship between people who might be hard to understand. In modern educational systems, foreign language instruction has been broadly introduced, which has made it possible for many people to enjoy the benefits of learning a new tongue.
Nowadays, English, French, Spanish, German, Mandarin, Russian and much more languages are introduced in educational institutions. However, we cannot disregard those people who do not appreciate these opportunities as others do. It is true that there is a significant amount of students who have gone through bitter experiences—the irritation one gets by the innumerable grammatical rules, or the miserable feeling when people did not understand what you have said in a foreign language—which traumatize them for their whole life.
Fortunately, I belong to the group that loves learning a foreign language, and I say these results from my experience. I have come in contact with multiple languages since my childhood, and the joy I feel is getting bigger as I am taking more language classes at university. The reason why I am so persistent in learning new languages is not only because of my liking. In fact, there are so many scientifically-proved benefits of doing it.
Studies show that learning a new language raises one’s ability to memorize, prevents dementia, and makes one to think positively. In addition to these merits, I believe that the process of learning a new language helps us to be humbler, which is an effect I have personally experienced.
Learning a new language is essentially trying to understand how other people think, so this can be applied to our communication in general. As I have become engrossed in new languages, my desire to share this joy with others has gotten stronger as well. In the near future, I want to dedicate myself to teaching languages, applying my experiences and strong passion. There is a saying that goes, “Practice makes perfect,” which is my motto when I struggle in doing something new.
In this article, I am going to describe how foreign languages are taught in educational institutions, compare and contrast people who like learning a language and those who do not, narrate how I got to know the joy of learning a language, argue the scientific benefits of learning it, argue the merits I have experienced by learning it, and explain what I want to do in the future using foreign language education. The road to success in acquiring a new language is not smooth, but there is something significant you can get through it.
How Foreign Languages Are Taught in Educational Institutions
Have you ever thought about the quality of foreign language education you received? As globalization is put emphasis on worldwide, foreign language education, or second foreign language education, has become essential to modern schooling, and it is starting to be introduced in earlier stages of education.
Let us take a look at an ordinary example of English education in Japan. Unless your parents do enroll you in English classes during preschool or before that, your first contact to English would be the English classes you have in the upper grades of elementary school. In most cases, these classes are based on games, songs, and class activities for the purpose of getting used to the language, and to experience the joy of learning it. At this point, there are no grammar or vocabulary tests, which many people dislike.
It is not until one gets to junior high school that English is taught in full-scale. English becomes one of the main five subjects during junior high and high school, along with Japanese, Mathematics, Social Studies and Science, which means that it is directly linked to the evaluation criteria for university admission and employment. Although French, German, Spanish, Mandarin and other languages are present in most universities as second foreign languages, English continues to be the main foreign language in education.
As language skills are regarded as important in order to survive a global fierce competition, Japan has become thirsty for a more effective and efficient foreign language education. The start of English classes in elementary school has been hastened about two years, and native English-speakers were introduced to schools as ALTs, or Assistant Language Teachers. The attempt of Japan to have a better foreign language education has just started. However, I think that foreign language education does not depend just on what or how we receive it, but it is also up to everybody’s attitude toward it.
Who Likes Learning a Language and Who Does Not
When it comes to language learning, some pass the happiest moment, but others feel as if the end of the world has come. The likes and dislikes of language learning result from the experiences in the past, which may influence people for their whole life. People who enjoy learning a new language tend to have had pleasant language-related experiences in their childhood. This might be an amusing English class in their elementary school, a fun family trip abroad, a neighbor or classmate from abroad, or simply a moving romantic song sung in a foreign language.
A clear and definite goal for the near future could also be a factor to face and consider language learning positively. If one has a resolute will to become a language teacher, a member of a cabin crew, an interpreter, a translator, a diplomat, or any other language-related job, it would be far easier to overcome any language-learning difficulties.
On the other hand, people who do not get along with language learning are likely to have had bitter experiences in their past. This could be a dull English class in their elementary school, a boring English teacher, unclear and complicated grammatical rules, or a bitter experience of being teased because of a simple mistake. Unfortunately, these people try not to be involved in any language related matter as much as possible.
In conclusion, experiences in the past have a great impact on one’s likes and dislikes of language learning, and it can cause both cycles, vicious or positive throughout people’s life. Nevertheless, I believe that everyone has the potential to bloom his or her language abilities and meet with the joy it can give them.
How I Got to Know the Joy of Learning a Language
As for me, to be honest, I have never met a person who loves learning a language more than I do. Actually, I was a bilingual, and eventually became a multilingual as I continued to learn new languages. I was born in Aichi, Japan, into an ordinary Japanese family.
When I was two years old, my family and I went to Peru because of my parents’ job. I had Peruvian friends in my neighborhood, and I was enrolled in a local preschool. Everything was in Spanish outside of my home, so without noticing, I became a bilingual in Japanese and Spanish.
I went to the Japanese School of Lima for elementary and junior high school, where I could learn my basics as a Japanese. This school was one of the hundreds of schools that the Ministry of Education of Japan has built all over the world in order to provide Japanese education to children who live abroad. Thus, I had Japanese teachers, Japanese friends, and used Japanese textbooks, just as if I lived in Japan.
Though I have been studying English in English classes after school, my three years in high school was the most significant time that I could polish my English skills. After graduating from the Japanese school, I went to an American international school in Lima, in which all the classes were done in English, most of the teachers were Americans, and many of my friends came from English-speaking countries.
This transition was definitely not easy for me. I remember myself being completely lost in class, without understanding any of the words the teacher has spoken. However, I survived! Thanks to my tender friends and patient teachers, I started to get accustomed to the environment as time passed on.
When I realized, English had become a good friend of mine, and somehow, I was able to speak three languages. At this point, I was already fascinated by the joy of obtaining a new language, and to be able to speak, share ideas, or just spend the time together with people who had different cultural backgrounds.
When I came back to Japan for university, the first thing I wanted to do was to learn more languages. I chose Korean as my second foreign language, because I was interested in how my Korean friends in high school spoke and wrote their language. For my second and third year in university, I also started to take Chinese, French, and German classes in addition to Korean, and this year I have chosen to go to a university in Korea as an exchange student. I do not deny that language learning takes a lot of time, effort, and guts, but the joy I feel surely exceeds the pain.
Scientific Benefits of Learning a Language
Surprisingly, my positive mentality toward foreign languages seems to come from the act itself of learning foreign languages, which can be scientifically proved. Physiological studies show that learning new languages is beneficial to both mind and body, and its effects can be seen no matter what age one has started it.
People who speak two or more languages tend to have better memory than those who can speak just one language. This is because learning a new language involves memorizing grammatical rules and vocabularies, which helps strengthen the minute signal transmission in our brains. It also improves the practicality of our brains and helps us build multitasking skills, which are routine tasks when using multiple languages, switching from one to another.
In addition, learning languages helps us to prevent or slow the progression of senile diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Studies show that the first symptoms of dementia are shown in earlier stages of life in monolingual people than people who can speak two or more languages. Furthermore, according to a study, bilinguals tended to make rational decisions and were confident with their choices after reviewing their judgment with the other language.
By learning new languages, we can have a more flexible and adaptable way of thinking about any details and problems that surround us, since we can see them objectively from various points of view, just as if one observes a circumstance through multiple languages. Thus, language learning has definite benefits that help us live a better life, both mentally and physically. Now, can you come up with a good reason for not learning languages?
Merits I Have Experienced by Learning Languages
You might be one of those who dislike using technical terms, solving chemical formulae, or analyzing experimental results. For those who do not like to argue about and judge from scientific evidences, I will present my personal experiences regarding language learning and its numerous benefits.
When I went to Korea for a Korean training course, I met a German girl who was studying Korean just like me. We started our conversation with a combination of Korean and English, and I was interested to hear that she was also studying Japanese, but it just so happened that she could also speak Spanish because she was born in Peru and had spent her childhood there! I was astonished by the coincidence, and the joy to be able to speak with her using four languages was so exciting and fun.
What fascinates me the most about learning a language is that it makes me able to speak to people whom would be difficult to communicate without that language. I do not mean that communication can be done just by speaking: making desperate gestures plus a little bit of broken English might be a typical way for many people to communicate interculturally, which might be good enough for some people However, being able to speak foreign languages does not only give us the chance to start a conversation or to liven it up, but it also makes the chat a lot easier for us to understand each other.
Foreign language learning can also broaden our horizons in many ways. For example, I have felt that the media do not necessarily report an incident in the exact same way, and in many cases, the content or the opinions about the topic vary considerably depending on the language it is used. You could compare and contrast the reports from multiple media if you know multiple languages. The media’s reliability might also be a problem, but at least we could compare, analyze and decide what the truth is.
Even though it might sound exaggerating, I think this is important in order to have your own opinion without being brainwashed by the media, society or government, and especially if you are dealing with International Relations. Therefore, language learning has the potential to enrich our life in many ways, and its benefits are countless. How to apply language learning to my life: that is the question.
What would it be our final goal of language learning? The purpose for learning a new language may vary from person to person, but I believe that learning a language is the process to get a new “tool,” and the question is how to manage it and make it beneficial to my life.Some people might have the acquisition of language certifications as their goal so that they can get a better job; others might learn a language just as their hobby, or as a preparation for a trip abroad.
As I have already said several times, I really enjoy learning languages, and if I were asked what my purpose of learning them is, I would simply answer, “to satisfy my curiosity.” I have perpetually felt this sense of inquisitiveness since my “trilingual” childhood, wondering how a word, phrase or expression would be said in other languages, and this feeling has not vanished at all. On the contrary, it is getting stronger, so much that I have gotten involved in more languages, and trying to polish each one of them. However, a “tool” would be a simple dusty object if one does not used it or does not know how to use it. Although it is going to be a long road to get to the point that I will be able to use my “tools” well and efficiently, I would like to keep going, meeting with foreign people speaking their language, and sharing my delight.