High school students often dread taking classes to learn a second language because learning another language is perceived as being difficult. In fact, students tend to avoid taking language classes if they are not required locally or necessary to get into a specific college program. At the same time, children being raised in bilingual homes tend to become proficient speakers of both languages at an early age. Is there a rational to explain why that happens?
The short answer is yes. Studies have repeatedly shown very children are more adept at learning new skills, including languages. As they age, the argument goes, people become more set in their ways and tend to question things rather than simply absorbing them like toddlers do. While everyone accepts what they’ve already learned, that knowledge becomes a filter for new learning.
A recent study demonstrated that when very young children are exposed to a new language they also develop an enhanced ability to empathize with others. The relationship between being exposed to the new language and increased empathetic abilities is quite strong. In other words, not only does the child learn another language, they also develop a more sophisticated non-verbal ability to communicate. Is it logical to assume the new skills are directly related to that open-mindedness children enjoy?
On the other hand, when older individuals, like high school students and adults, learn a new language, that enhanced ability to empathize does not seem to automatically piggyback on the new language skill. However, logic dictates that learning about a new culture while learning a new language would make virtually anyone better able to understand the new culture. In other words, language learners would, in fact, become somewhat more able to empathize with members of the new culture. So, while older individuals arguably are able to better empathize with another culture, that ability may not be at the same level a very young learner experiences.
In the long run, however, the important thing is to learn something new. Learning a new language at any age exposes the learner to new ideas and concepts. That alone makes learning a new language worth the effort. Anyone expecting to travel or look for a new career will also benefit directly from learning a new language. Whatever the reason for learning another language, the benefits far outweigh the effort involved.
Learning a new language can be done in the comfort of your own home thanks to new technology and the availability of language learning software for personal computers, iphones and other mobile devices. Check out Little Language Site for more information on the latest language learning software as well as updates to language learning philosophy. They also have great articles on linguistics and linguistic theories.