By Eric Garneau
The most common argument for studying a foreign language is probably that it looks good on a transcript, and that's true. In fact, foreign language courses in high school may get you out of some required classes in college. Beyond that, though, numerous studies have shown that taking a foreign language actually improves grades and standardized test scores in many subjects. Moreover, the benefits accrue with each year studied. A potential reason: engrossing yourself in another language requires you to think critically about something which you essentially took for granted before, namely the structure of language and its use in day-to-day communications.
Foreign language studies don't just look good on transcripts - they look great on resumes, too! Knowledge of a foreign language might give you the edge when you're on the job hunt. As technology makes our world smaller and the economy becomes more and more globalized, many businesses have a growing need to employ workers who can effectively communicate beyond their native tongue.
One of the larger, somewhat less direct benefits of studying a foreign language is immersion in a foreign culture. This experience helps you see the world as others do. That's a necessary skill in the modern world, and more urgent still if university life is in your future. As a freshman in college, you'll be exposed to people and ways of life that you've never encountered before, especially if you live in the dorms. Why not get a head start on that experience?
According to a recent study from the American Association for the Advancement of Science, being bilingual actually has positive effects on one's brain chemistry. It's been shown to ward off the onset of Alzheimer's disease in susceptible adults for four years or more. The reason? It's the same as why language studies improve your academic performance: knowledge of two languages engages one's mental capacities, especially in that it helps subjects filter out irrelevant material (words in the language you're not speaking) and focus on what's important (words in the language you are). Though it can't prevent Alzheimer's or similar conditions, bilingual ability does allow people to better cope with and combat eventual mental deterioration.