Even more than cognitive benefits, being bilingual also gives students a leg up in the the workforce

TIDINGS FILE PHOTO - Anna SpeerOnly about 20 percent of North Americans today consider themselves bilingual. Comparing that figure to Europe where 54 percent of people consider themselves to speak two or more languages, it's surprising to note the significant difference between the two continents.

I believe that being bilingual is a great advantage. Because of this, language classes should be more importance in America.

Besides the ability to speak another language, there are countless other benefits that being bilingual holds. Being bilingual can greatly increase job opportunities, have healthy effects on the brain and help a student's overall performance in school.

In the United States, most schools do not start teaching second languages until the age of about 11 or 12 years old.

This is a mistake considering the critical period for learning a language is about 5-years-old until around the age people go through puberty.

During this time, it's easier for the brain to acquire a new language and learn to speak it without an accent. After puberty it becomes much more difficult to learn to speak a new language fluently like a native would speak.

This puts students who are just learning to speak a second language during middle school at a great disadvantage to those who started in elementary school or even younger.

Exposing children to a second language during elementary school and kindergarten would help students be more successful in learning a new language and give them a better ability to fully master that language.

An important benefit of bilingualism is the effect it has on the brain.

The Dana Foundation, which focuses on brain research, has found that the ability to speak a second language also increases the attention span and helps activate different regions of the brain at once.

This is why many bilinguals have greater success when playing instruments because of the cognitive control that is enhanced when learning a second language. For older people, being bilingual also lessens the effects of cognitive decline later on in life.

Even more than cognitive benefits, being bilingual also gives students a leg up when entering the workforce.

The ability to communicate with more people opens up many job opportunities especially in the fields of business, journalism and tourism. No matter what the job is, being bilingual gives you an advantage over any job applicant who may speak only one language.

The world is increasingly becoming more connected through the internet and social media. Because of this, language education is of great relevance in our current world.

I believe that if our education system started teaching languages earlier, and gave students more incentive to continue enhancing their language skills throughout school, this would have great benefits for our country and education as a whole.

Anna Speer is a senior at West Linn High School.

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