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Some of the benefits of learning a foreign language in high school are that it improves knowledge in the native tongue, increases cognitive skills, and meets requirements for entry to many colleges. Moreover, these studies tend to expand comprehension of other cultures, make travel to areas where the language is spoken richer and more enjoyable, and can benefit a career. Starting in high school also means students have a chance to study more intensively at the college level or they can learn a third language at a university.
Learning a foreign language in high school or at any other time increases a person’s understanding of his or her native tongue. The new language provides a constant basis for comparison that monolingual speakers simply don’t possess. Most students will develop a better sense of things like native vocabulary, usage, grammar and style as they compare it to a different communication system.
Cognitive or thinking skills are improved by learning a foreign language. Significant research shows that students who pursue this path are likelier to become stronger thinkers. This is also often evidenced by higher scores on standardized tests like the SAT® and ACT®, and by better grade point averages.
In the US, most colleges require at least one to two years of foreign language in high school. Critics suggest this isn’t enough, and students would be better off pursuing bilingualism much earlier in life when the ability to learn a language is highest. It’s still quite possible for people to gain fluency if they start studying in high school, and more advanced classes can be taken in college, if needed. Also, high school students might still be able to accrue up to four years of study and practice from freshman to senior year. This will meet requirements for college entry and accomplish much more.
Another advantage is that language studies almost always have a cultural context. Students don’t just learn about the words spoken — they also get a view into the cultural behaviors of another language’s speakers. This makes taking foreign language courses even more useful because it imparts a global perspective, widening understanding of the greater world.
A second language can also give people an extra edge when pursuing a career, especially in countries where regular contact with speakers of that language occurs. For example, in the US, there are a high number of Spanish speakers and the need for bilingual employees is very strong. In some fields and some areas of the country, it’s hard to get a job without speaking Spanish. Further, anyone who wants to travel to other countries for pleasure or business will benefit from having knowledge of that country’s language.
Additionally, by studying a foreign language in high school, students get the chance to achieve more than bilingualism. They’ll have time in college or later to master other languages. This could provide benefits like increased knowledge and cultural competency, and more rewarding travel and career opportunities.
My main reason for taking Spanish in high school was to learn how to communicate with my neighbors and co-workers. I lived in a largely Hispanic part of town, and I worked in my parents' restaurant after school and during summer vacations. My parents urged me to take Spanish for all four years of high school. I wouldn't say I became fluent in the language, but at least I could understand my co-workers and I could talk to the Hispanic store owners in my neighborhood.
I took four years of Latin at my high school, and I did wonder what good it would do me as an adult. When I started college, my major required a lot of English and composition courses. I found that my background in Latin helped me understand some of the more obscure rules of English grammar, and it also improved my vocabulary. If I found an unfamiliar word in a reading assignment, I could break it down into its Latin roots and translate it back into English.
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