Why Should I Study a Foreign Language?

August 31, 2018 Theresa Bruns

“Why Should I Study a Foreign Language?”
Do you ever hear this from your students (and sometimes from their parents, other teachers, or administrators)?

For my fellow language teachers, it seems obvious why everyone should study another language. But with so many other academic demands and requirements for students today, it isn’t always so apparent. Let’s look at some of the benefits of studying a second language so the next time you are asked this question, you are armed with a research-based answer!

The benefits of acquiring another language are threefold:

  • Self-improvement
  • Career marketability, and
  • Development of a global perspective

In the area of self-improvement, research shows us that learning a second language improves skills in analytics1, problem solving2, math, and English3. It even helps to increase vocabulary in our own mother tongue4. The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) has amassed a series of studies on these benefits for second language learners. The findings have led to their remarkable conclusion that “language learning correlates with higher academic achievement on standardized test measures,” including an overall positive link between bilingual students and improved SAT verbal scores4.

In terms of career preparation, many companies view bilingual employees as more valuable in the marketplace, as they are able to navigate the language and culture of foreign clients in an ever-expanding global economy. In 2011, the Wall Street Journal reported on findings of a survey conducted by the University of Phoenix Research Institute. The survey found that “42% of employers expect business proficiency in Chinese to be in moderate or high demand in a decade; nearly 70% expect Spanish to be in demand5. Now in 2018, we work in an economy where proficiency in a second language may distinguish the ideal candidates from the rest of the applicant pool—and they will often get paid more.

Finally, learning a foreign language helps students to develop a global perspective, which is increasingly more important in business, in our communities, and in our world overall.  Ariel Tichnor-Wagner, Senior Fellow at ASCD, declares that “global competence is so much more than a ticket to a competitive job.” In her article, A Global Perspective: Bringing the World into Classrooms6, Tichnor-Wagner reminds us that in light of recent events and headlines, “The need for students to be able to empathize with others, value diverse perspectives and cultures, understand how events around the world are interconnected, and solve problems that transcend borders has never been greater.” Helping students develop acculturated attitudes can help erase prejudgment toward others who are different, inspiring respect and cooperation among us. Immersive study of a second language is a great place for your students to start.

At Fuel Education, we provide excellent online solutions for world language study in elementary, middle, and high school—including some Advanced Placement® courses. Download our implementation guide to learn about multiple successful ways to begin or expand your world language program. 

About Theresa Bruns
As Director of Product Marketing for language solutions at Fuel Education, Theresa Bruns works with language experts, curriculum developers, and training professionals to ensure a top-notch experience for our language solution clients. Prior to joining the FuelEd team, Theresa taught Spanish at the elementary, secondary, and college level for more than 20 years. She holds a master’s degree in Second Language Acquisition and Spanish, and a master’s degree in Technology Integration in the Classroom. Theresa shared one of her favorite quotes, which reflects her passion for the work she does in language learning:

❝If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.❞ - Nelson Mandela

Follow Theresa on Twitter: @tbruns17


1Rodriguez, Y. G. (. (1992). The effects of bilingualism on cognitive development. (EdD, ProQuest Information & Learning/Temply University). Dissertation Abstracts International, 53 (4-A), 1104. https://www.actfl.org/advocacy/what-the-research-shows/references-cognitive#improves_cognitive

2Stephens, Mary Ann Advisor: Esquivel, Giselle B. (1997). Bilingualism, creativity, and social problem-solving. (PhD,   Fordham   University). https://www.actfl.org/advocacy/what-the-research-shows/references-cognitive#problem_solving

3Johnson, C. E., Ellison, F. P., & Flores, J. S. (1961). The effect of foreign language instruction on basic learning in elementary schools. The Modern Language Journal, 45(5), 200-202. https://www.actfl.org/advocacy/what-the-research-shows/studies-supporting

4Cooper, T. C. (1987). Foreign language study and SAT-verbal scores. Modern Language Journal, 71(4), 381-387. from ERIC database. https://www.actfl.org/advocacy/what-the-research-shows/studies-supporting#satact

5Light, J. (2011) Languages Needed But No Plans to Learn. Wall Street Journal.

6Tichnor-Wagner, A. (2016) A Global Perspective: Bringing the World into Classrooms. Education Week.

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