The bilingual advantage

It’s easier to learn a foreign language than you might think and it also provides some surprising benefits.

Vanessa Ramstack

Can you read this question? Puoi leggere questa domanda? How about: Können Sie diese Frage lesen? Or: ¿Puede leer esta pregunta?
The importance of learning a second language has been stressed since middle school, when we were forced to choose which second language to learn. In high school, most of us struggled through the difficulty of conjugating verbs and the horror of reading aloud in class.
So by the time we hit college, most students have lost the motivation to learn a second language. And for those who did not take a foreign language in high school, the content of a university-level beginner course is intimidating.
However, if you are hoping that I am going to pat you on the back and encourage you to nix the second language altogether, you are  mistaken.
There are 40 languages offered at the University of Minnesota, which is certainly an upgrade from the two or three languages typically offered in high school.
In addition to fulfilling graduation requirements and allowing cross-cultural communication, becoming bilingual âÄî or trilingual if you are the ambitious type âÄî boosts your brainpower and health.
ItâÄôs been proven that bilingual people are better able to ignore distractions while performing tasks that require switching mindsets. This is because in a bilingual personâÄôs brain, both languages are active, and the speaker must switch between the two depending on the situation.
The human brain contains two types of tissues: gray and white. The gray is linked to language, memory and attention. Researchers at LondonâÄôs Wellcome Department of Imaging Neuroscience completed a study and found the gray matter in the bilingual brain to be denser, allowing for greater language retention.
Bilingualism even helps the aging brain. A study done by Ellen Bialystok, a psychologist from York University, revealed that dementia set in four to five years later for bilingual people.
If we are talking about the near future, bilingualism for your career is something to consider. Plus, it would be much more impressive to go to France and be able to order from the menu, instead of just awkwardly pointing to the dish youâÄôd like.
So you probably do not want dementia, and tolerance for distractions is always a positive. But if you take four introductory semesters of a language, thatâÄôs 20 credits, which is a semester worth of classes. Maybe you do not want to spend that much time learning how to say what you ate yesterday in Spanish.
Perhaps you are currently enrolled in a language class and are fed up with the people who sit slumped in their chairs and refuse to participate and ask you every five seconds what the teacher just said. Or worse, speak in English the whole time.
The beautiful thing about learning a foreign language is that it does not need to be confined to the classroom.
Partner up with a friend and invest in a Rosetta Stone CD set. You donâÄôt even have to buy it: Many libraries loan them. Venture down Lake Street to markets like La Alborada or Holy Land to converse with native foreign language speakers.
Or try the UniversityâÄôs TandemPlus Program, which pairs students with native speakers of the language they are studying. This complete immersion in the language will provide confidence when faced with a challenging conversation or more fluent speaker.
If you could not read the questions at the beginning of this spiel, never fear. You still have time to learn, and fortunately, the classroom is not the only way to achieve fluency.
Vanessa Ramstack welcomes comments at [email protected]