The Prowler

The Power of Language

Simona Vishnevsky, News Editor

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Language. It has the power to unite us and divide us.

Before I present my argument, it is important to understand that only certain people can even read the following words: people who are fluent in English. Yes, I can also write in Russian (the only other language I am fluent in), but odds are you would not understand it. The amount of people we can communicate with is just one aspect of our lives that is limited due to the amount of languages we speak.

I cannot identify with people who only speak one language, I can, however, understand the benefits of being bilingual. You are able to communicate with more individuals, understand multiple cultures, and improve a variety of cognitive skills; being multilingual is even more beneficial.  

In today’s global economy, an inability to communicate hurts us both socially and economically.

Studying not only a first but also a second foreign language is required in more than twenty European countries, according to the Pew Research Center. But it is not a requirement in America. In fact, we do not have any nationwide foreign-language mandates, although individual school districts in America do set their own language requirements.

Living in America, our limited knowledge of languages hurts our relationships with people both across the globe and across the street. In the house to the right of my Russian one lives an Armenian couple. In the house to their right lives a Japanese couple. Next door to them lives an American couple. Four different languages amongst four households on one block. While the accents and mispronunciations hinder the communication between the residents of my cul-de-sac, thankfully we all speak some English, which allows us to communicate. Without this common language I would not be able to greet my neighbors with anything but a friendly smile and wave. My small residential street is somewhat representative of America: a country made up of immigrants from near and far. So it is important for us to realize that knowing more languages is our tool to communicate not only with people across the globe, but people across the street.

Furthermore, language is often associated with culture. Thus, the more languages we learn, the more cultures we can begin to understand and the more cultures we can communicate with. The Rosetta Stone Software Company, known for being the program many use to learn additional languages, says, “cultural intelligence increases dramatically when one speaks one or many languages different than their native language/s. Learning a foreign language increases one’s ability to be successful in cross-cultural interactions.” People tend to learn a foreign language only when they have to – for instance, when immigrating to a new country.

In 1989, upon my family’s arrival to the United States, the government funded their English classes. While funding these type of classes is beneficial and allows for immigrants to be able to adjust to America, it also causes immigrants to believe that they must change not only their language but other important aspects of their culture.

When speaking multiple languages, the brain must work harder than that of a person who speaks one language. Since multiple language systems are active, one language must obstruct the others. The New York Times states that originally, “researchers, educators and policy makers long considered a second language to be an interference, cognitively speaking, that hindered a child’s academic and intellectual development.”

However, studies have now proven that this interference of languages is actually beneficial.

Psychologists Ellen Bialystok and Michelle Martin-Rhee conducted a study with preschoolers, in which the children were asked to sort images of blue and red colored shapes. The first task included sorting the shapes by color. This task was completed easily by both monolingual and bilingual speakers. In the second task, the children were told to sort by the shape, this caused difficulty since “it required placing the images in a bin marked with a conflicting color.” According to The New York Times, bilingual speakers performed better at this task. The study has proven that the executive function of the brain is improved by being bilingual. The executive function directs attention processes that are used in problem solving and other mentally demanding tasks.

Further studies, like a particular one comparing German-Italian bilinguals with Italian monolinguals, have proven that not only did bilingual speakers perform better at certain tasks, but did so with “less activity in parts of the brain involved in monitoring, indicating that they were more efficient at it.” People who speak multiple languages are also more aware of their surroundings. This awareness comes from having to understand what language should be used in the particular setting.

Not only is being multilingual beneficial in certain aspects of one’s life, but it can also save one’s’ life. A recent study conducted by neuropsychologist Tamar Gollan of the University of California, San Diego proved that bilinguals are less prone to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Gollan’s study was conducted on 44 elderly Spanish-English bilinguals.

I am the first to admit that learning multiple languages can be difficult, especially as as a child. However, the younger the child is the easier they can learn a second language and the more they can benefit from it.

No matter when it is you learn a language, it is important for us to realize that we should and must learn other languages. We should not just learn another language because it is a graduation requirement, but because it is a life requirement.

Communication is our tool – to learn, speak, and to coexist.

 

About the Writer
Simona Vishnevsky, News Editor

Simona is a Senior and has been a part of the Prowler since her freshmen year. She is captain of Dance 2. She loves writing and photography. Her favorite...

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The Power of Language