In full disclosure, I am a staunch advocate of learning a foreign language. The topic of foreign language learning, immersion teaching in particular, has long been very fascinating to me. As someone who has studied and worked abroad, I greatly understand the practical benefits of knowing a second language but what has escaped my radar until recently are the cognitive benefits of being bilingual. Ch. 8 in the Lilienfeld text dabbled into these cognitive benefits. For a more robust understanding, check out this NYT article.
For sake of brevity, here are a few reasons from Lilienfeld and the NYT article why exposure to a second language before & after the critical period for language acquisition is so dang important:
1. Heightened metalinguistic insight -- this insight will be a friend that keeps on giving. You may think you know English now but it's amazing how much we don't know about the structure of our own language. Learning a second language has actually helped me better understand the finer details of my own native language.
2. Improvement of executive functions in the brain -- this includes planning, problem solving, and performing other mentally demanding tasks.
3. Brain efficiency -- executing demanding tasks uses less activity in the associated parts of the brain for bilinguals.
4. Increased resistance to dementia and Alzheimer's Disease -- a study found that the higher the degree of bilingualism, the later the onset of symptoms.
So here's my question: Why on Earth do American schools, with the exception of immersion, start incorporating foreign language education AFTER the critical period of language acquisition? It's clear that American students are having a harder time competing on a global scale with others. Wouldn't this be a step in the right direction?
Critical period of language acquisition aside, it never hurts to learn a new language. Do these proven practical and cognitive benefits motivate you to pursue learning a foreign language? Can you think of other benefits, besides the ones listed above, to learn a new language?