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Parlez-Vous Second Language? Those Who Do Might Be Smarter

Parlez-Vous Second Language? Those Who Do Might Be Smarter

At a time when UK’s (lack of) language skills and schooling performance are being questioned, an academic study claims that learning languages might be key to raising a ‘smarter’ next generation …


A few weeks ago, we discussed ways in which Britain’s educational landscape with respect to language studies could be reshaped to help build a better future. BBC had claimed that there was an ‘alarming shortage of foreign language skills in UK’ and a Sky News article stated that poor language skills were hampering the UK economy.

On 3 December 2o13, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)-run Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) body published a worldwide study of 15-year-old school pupils’ scholastic performance on mathematics, science, and reading. The study included data from over 510,000 participating students from 34 OECD member countries and 31 partner countries. Britain’s performance was criticised by Education Secretary Michael Gove in The Telegraph going on to claim that UK students’ incapability to keep up with international competitors was ‘a damning verdict’.

According to some news reports, British pupils scored particularly low in the reading test. The country scored worse than several Asian and European countries.


Why are languages relevant?

Not only are the ‘reading’ capabilities of a country’s youth indicative of the strength of its educational system, but also a marker of how it influences other attributes. Comprehension and language skills have a positive impact in cultivating scientific and mathematical aptitude in students, noting that the more languages students gain knowledge in, the better their capacity to ingest mathematical elements of study.

A recent academic study by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), conducted as a joint research by University College London, University of California (San Diego) and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, noted that developing language skills in children at an early age could have a positive influence on their understanding of numbers at an early age. Studying, and cultivating, language skills outside of one’s comfort zone, i.e. native tongues, bred a strong sense of mathematical development in children.


How can the UK benefit when English is already a ‘global language’?

It is true that English has become a truly global language and has assumed a position at the top of the linguistic pyramid as the lingua franca of the business world. However, the PNAS study shows that learning languages from an early age with a view to becoming bilingual or multi-lingual tend to greatly boost overall development in children. This is where Britain falls behind as the levels of motivation to master foreign languages has diminished since English established itself as the ‘language of the world’.

Famous British comedian and polyglot Eddie Izzard recently termed the UK population as being ‘lazy’ at learning foreign languages. Perhaps this is true. And this is what has to be changed. The powers that be must remember that language skills are not just tools for communication but also, when disseminated systematically to a young audience, catalysts that fuel development in other areas of a citizenry’s intellectual growth. Not addressing this means many more PISA studies resulting in low scores, and pondering over why UK students seem to keep failing to make any tangible progress if compared to their continental and global counterparts. The answer to stem this tide of poor student assessment numbers lies in one word: multilingualism.

Incentivising UK children to acquire language skills should be a priority for one and all; not only will it aide them build a ‘smarter’ future but also help them reap the benefits of being better-equipped to find their place in an increasing globalising world.


The Language Gallery offers a selection of language instruction courses across multiple locations in the UK, catering to English-learners as well as those who desire to learn foreign languages. For more information, visit: https://www.thelanguagegallery.com/


< Principal image courtesy of ‘GPS Magazine‘ >

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