The role of language instruction in learning performance

“Schools that fail to emphasise teaching foreign languages do their students a grave disservice”

Around the world, various countries espouse different attitudes toward language and learning, notes Alyssa Abel of education blog, Syllabusy. She points out that European nations, for example, begin teaching foreign languages in primary school or before while conversely, many American schools do not offer these classes as electives until high school, and several have even eliminated foreign languages as a graduation requirement.

Schools that fail to emphasise teaching foreign languages do their students a grave disservice. Researchers have found a strong relationship between language and learning and its positive impact on academic performance. How can educators motivate their students to expand their linguistic ability beyond their native tongue?

How Does Language Affect Learning?

Research indicates that foreign language instruction bolsters academic performance in many ways — including an upward trajectory in test scores.

In one study, researchers selected random third-grade students to receive Spanish lessons three times per week for one semester. The teacher instructed class entirely in the foreign tongue. The students who received this instruction scored significantly higher in math and language on the Metropolitan Achievement Test (MAT) than those who did not. Given the emphasis on these measures when it comes to funding, the practice offers a valuable means to improve overall scholarship.

Another area in which language and learning collide is in reading comprehension. A 2001 study indicated that adolescent bilingual students score higher on word-reading and spelling tasks than same-age monolingual readers. Sixth-grade students in a similar research project likewise scored higher on reading comprehension tasks.

Given the way various languages often contain cognates, or words that have the same linguistic derivation, this improvement makes sense. If a student doesn’t recognise a word in their native tongue, but they know a similar one in Italian, they’re more likely to discern the correct meaning of the unfamiliar term.

Finally, evidence suggests that language immersion programs bolster student IQs. The study of a foreign tongue lends superiority in concept formation and builds mental muscle. Furthermore, students enjoy the cognitive benefits long after school ends — and into their careers.

“Evidence suggests that language immersion programs bolster student IQs”

Different Language Instruction Methodologies

There are four primary methods of language instruction, and the technique used depends on the age group and available resources.

  • Grammar-translation: People who studied Latin or ancient Greek probably used this method. First, students learn the rules of grammar and cases, then they learn vocabulary to build into phrases and sentences.
  • Direct: In this method, language is taught the way children learn it. Teachers conduct classes in the foreign tongue, and students practice speaking it. Many language learning apps, such as Rosetta Stone, use this technique.
  • Audio-lingual: This teaching style uses repetition to reinforce learning. Students hear words and phrases repeatedly before advancing to written exercises.
  • Full immersion: While this is challenging to achieve unless an international student travels to a foreign country, this method uses the new tongue both in the classroom and throughout everyday life, which provides a fully immersive and effective experience.

Language and Learning and Future Success

The question for educators is not only how does language affect learning, but how does it impact their students’ future success? According to the experts at Florida International University, learning even a few words in a foreign tongue improves career prospects. It enables students to build rapport with recruiters from international firms, enhances their resumes and helps them communicate more effectively in general.

Furthermore, in the marketing and sales sectors, cultural awareness helps drive higher profits. A quick Google search reveals hilarious — but costly —  advertising mishaps that have occurred due to errors in translation.

The Relationship Between Language and Learning Makes Its Significance Clear

Given the relationship between language and improved learning performance, schools should focus on expanding foreign language instructional programs. In the meantime, teachers can and should encourage their students to take advantage of every opportunity to learn a foreign tongue in order to improve their chances of academic and career success.

About the Author: With an interest in unconventional education and emerging methodologies, Alyssa Abel writes about the best strategies for students and teachers. Follow her on her education blog, Syllabusy.