Most schools encourage, if not enforce, enrollment in some kind of second-language course. However, when you're saddled with a hectic schedule and overwhelming course load, your second or third language may be the last thing on your mind - if you can't even keep up with things in one language, how could you possibly manage two? In this article, we're going to highlight why it's important not to let language-learning slip in school. As we'll show, acquisition of a foreign language can reap enormous benefits for you later on, from the moment you leave high school. Here are some reasons to learn new languages as soon as possible:
1) Increase options when you hit the job market
This is perhaps the most common reason people learn new languages. Having an extra language will increase not only your range of job opportunities in your own country, but will also expand the number of countries you can work in. In the present economic climate, it's a good idea to arm yourself with as many attractive qualifications as possible, and a second language is one of the best ways to enrich your CV. Many people opt for second languages spoken by a large global population, such as Mandarin or Spanish; this is a great idea if you want to expand your options. However, languages that are less widely spoken can also be advantageous, as they may be the one thing that sets you apart from most of the other candidates for a particular job.
2) Your language-learning capacity may deteriorate with age
Many older adults complain that it is much more difficult for them to learn a language now than when they were younger. This observation has been supported by a wealth of research, which suggests that the brain's neuroplasticity (its ability to change) decreases with age. Since your brain has to alter its structure and connectivity to accommodate a new language, decreased neuroplasticity may help to explain many older adults' struggles with language acquisition. Picture a sponge. A freshly bought sponge does a good job of soaking up all the water and soap. However, with time the sponge will start to harden, losing its absorptive power. If you think of your brain as a bit like this sponge, you can imagine the benefits of picking up a new language now, while your brain is still at its most plastic.
3) You have more time to learn a language when you are younger
Learning a language takes time. Don't put off job-oriented language-learning until the last minute. By the time you're in college or university, you may not have the chance to squeeze in foreign language classes. So act now and give yourself a healthy period of time (e.g. several years) to practice and perfect your language skills. Plus, research shows that students tend to retain a language better if they learn it over the long run, instead of packing it all into a short space of time.
4) Improve your handle on your first language
During school, relatively little attention is directed to our first language fluency, beyond being able to express our thoughts adequately. Since we acquired the language at an early age, we often don't see the need to re-examine our first language skills. However, even amongst native speakers of a language, there can be significant variation in both oral and written fluency. Employers know this, and may favor job applicants with more advanced language skills. How can you improve your first language skills? One way is by learning a second language. Foreign language acquisition forces you to analyze the grammar and structure of the new language, which can then increase your understanding of your native tongue. For example, if some anglophone students are learning French, they will probably be introduced to the subjunctive case, which needs to be employed in certain sentence structures. What the students may not know is that there is also a subjunctive case in English. The students can then go back and re-assess their English, and find out whether or not they are using the subjunctive case correctly.