Bridging the language gap

by Andy Bryenton

With education changing towards a model of engagement and interactive study, you might think that the days of learning Latin or French in the classroom are numbered.

However, surprising research results have proven that learning more than one language is a path to more than just less confusing holidays and that the very young outdo even highly intelligent adults when it comes to learning how to speak other tongues.

Language, it’s now thought by many psychologists, sits at the root of not just some knowledge, but all of it. Delving back in time there are even scientists who theorise that our huge brains may have evolved to allow for communication, and that thought and reason are tied closely to language.

That’s strong stuff, but the smaller benefits of learning another language while young are just as compelling.

We know that small children are great at learning another language, as the physical part of this process involves new connections forming in their brains. What’s new is the knowledge that this process speeds up the formation of connections about other things. People who speak more than one language have improved memory, problem-solving and critical-thinking skills, enhanced concentration, ability to multitask and better listening skills. There’s even evidence that learning another language early on boosts creativity and the ability to multitask, crossing the left and right brain divide. Strangely, learning to read and play music also counts as ‘another language’.

Then there’s the different perspective another language offers. There are some thoughts and emotions that are difficult to frame in English but are summed up by a single word in other languages, such as the Scandinavian word ‘hygge’ meaning ‘the sense of warmth and togetherness of being in out of the cold with your friends or family’. Being able to speak and think in other languages offers a fresh perspective, which is good for encouraging analytical thought and lateral thinking. There are many languages to choose from, with some pragmatically selected for future business success and others for cultural reasons. Whatever the case, however, it’s now increasingly mainstream knowledge that becoming a lingual prodigy early, sets the brain up for lifelong learning, and can even prevent old-age dementia.