Most American students hardly learn even English well and any other languages almost never to fluency, but multiple language acquisition is common in the schools of nearly all other developed countries. This is one, but not the only or even the chief reason Redeemer students learn multiple languages, starting with Latin.
A college dean recently made a case in the digital magazine Aeon for why. “Learning another language benefits each learner in at least three ways – pragmatically, neurologically and culturally,” writes Dr. Daniel Everett of Bentley University.
Practically, no matter what you do in life, knowing more languages will benefit you, he writes. For one, it gives significant advantages in an international business world. “[T]he investment of learning the language of your colleagues and customers tells them: ‘I respect you'” and boosts business and personal relationships, Everett writes.
In most first-world countries, it is standard for educated people to know their native language plus English, and often a third language to boot. Americans with serious language skills earn a premium in related careers. Those include programming, an often lucrative and ever-expanding field that is much easier to excel in if one is skilled with languages.
Beyond the financial, practical benefits to language skill, Everett notes that learning multiple languages expands your mental capacity because language is intimately tied with different ways of thinking about the world.
“You cannot achieve fluency in another language without learning its speakers’ perspectives on the world, and thereby enriching your own conceptual arsenal. The actual work of learning new ways of talking – new sounds, grammars, storytelling, understandings of the Universe – stretch and build the mind,” he writes.
A third benefit is in increasing one’s intelligence.
“Neurologically, learning another language actually makes us smarter. There is evidence that learning new languages causes growth in our cerebral grey matter, with more synaptic connections formed in our brains,” Everett writes. “I have often thought of the brain as very similar to a muscle, in that exercise strengthens it. And this is a growing consensus among many researchers. There is even some evidence that language-learning can postpone the onset of Alzheimer’s.”
Everett also makes the important point that people almost never become fluent in a language if they learn it alone, even if hearing it through audiobooks and language programs. The most effective and lasting way to learn another language is by daily study plus human interaction: reading, memorizing, and conversing. This is the method we follow at Redeemer.
Our students who have begun to study Latin this year are, just eight weeks into school, already speaking it and able to use the correct tenses and verb forms, as young as eight years old. By the time they reach high school, they will be bilingual and able to move on to becoming trilingual.
They will also be able to understand world history from the perspective and in the indigenous language of some of history’s greatest minds and as descending from societies that produced some of Western culture’s highest achievements. No matter where they go or what they do in life, their ability to serve their neighbors and love the truth will have been carefully nourished, watered, and cultivated. The more of this available to any person, the better for him and every person he encounters in life.
This kind of study helps children develop a mental and cultural capacity far above what they would in any other locally available education settings — save, perhaps, being lucky enough to grow up in a bilingual household with highly educated parents who are good at teaching and have the time to do it thoroughly. This kind of intellectual and cultural opportunity needn’t depend on luck, however. It is available to all children, right here in Fort Wayne.