Learn a foreign language

Learning a foreign language can be a fun, educational way to learn about culture.

The word Hello in different languages

Learning a foreign language can increase capability of young people, be a fun family activity and a way to learn about the culture of other countries. According to Michigan State University‘s Katherine Stark, only 20% of students in the United States study a foreign language compared to 92% in Europe. One reason may be that European citizens can cross country lines as easy as we cross state lines and would need to use a different language. The train system is used frequently to travel in Europe and travelers can use several different languages in one day!

Besides travel, there are many reasons for young people to learn a foreign language. The most recognized may be understanding other cultures and gaining a connection to others around them and gaining empathy for others who are fighting a language barrier. Youth who study foreign language reach more success in school overall compared to youth who don’t study foreign languages, referencing the notion that learning a second language can boost overall brain development and intelligence. In addition, a second language may benefit those who are searching for employment and help in their future career.

How do you learn a foreign language? Learning a second language isn’t tied to the classroom anymore. There are several apps that can be downloaded on any electronic device—phone, iPad or computer—that provide an easy and sometimes free access to a new language. A study done by MSU faculty Shawn Loewan indicated that 59% of participants in an online app, Babbel, increased their oral proficiency at least one sublevel on the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages proficiency scale. Their proficiency increased with time spent on the app—69% for more than 6 hours and 75% for at least 15 hours. The apps are easy to use and can be used whenever time is available, which makes the program extremely useful for busy families.

Other reasons for kids to learn a second language is that it can boost their proficiency in their primary language as they learn the parts of sentences in a new language. Many times, young children can learn foreign languages easier, especially if parents use dual languages in the home. Another connection that has been made to learning a new language is it may help “train the ear” in learning music. Also, with older people, learning a language can offset cognitive delays of aging.

Families can learn a foreign language together while experiencing international meals, games and day-to-day culture of another country. Families may want to host an exchange student though the States’ 4-H International Exchange Program and even have children travel back as part of the exchange. Michigan 4-H International Exchanges can be as short as a couple of weeks or as long as a school year and provide rich experiences for host families and travelers. Visiting foreign places can also be the family’s reward for becoming proficient in a language.

To learn about the positive impact of Michigan 4-H youth leadership, citizenship and service and global and cultural education programs read our Impact Report: “Developing Civically Engaged Leaders.” Additional impact reports, highlighting even more ways Michigan State University Extension and Michigan 4-H have positively impacted individuals and communities in can be downloaded from the MSU Extension website.

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