What are the Benefits of Learning Another Language?

It’s tough being a LOTE teacher in Australia and you only have to look a world map to understand why. We’re literally ‘girt by sea’ and English is our official language. There doesn’t seem to be a huge incentive to learn the languages of other countries, and we’ve done very little (if anything) to promote the learning of Indigenous languages. So it’s not uncommon for LOTE teachers to hear the lament that is our title today.

I could go on, but let’s get positive. Because there are many good reasons for children in Australian schools to be learning a language.

  1. Language learning is also cultural learning. It’s an opportunity for kids to experience different ways of living, belief systems and cultures. I am a huge fan of Intercultural Language Learning (IcLL) and you’ll see that reflected in my resources (more on the way) but even if a LOTE teacher is more traditional in their approach, through learning a language children pick up on culture by necessity.
  2. Through learning a foreign language children learn more about their own language. Particularly in high school where explicit grammar teaching become less of a feature of English. Students who previously struggled to understand the difference between an adjective and a noun learn about it in a whole new way, and the understanding often dawns on them for the first time. In comparing sentence structures between their own language and the new language (for example ‘my ball’ in English and ‘bola saya’ in Indonesian) students see not just the workings of the foreign language but also their own.
  3. Students learn they are capable of more than they thought. While some schools do ability-stream languages, I am strongly opposed to this. Just as everyone can learn Maths (just another language BTW), anyone can learn a second language. There is genuinely something beautiful about seeing the kid who thought they were ‘too dumb’ string a sentence together or recognise a foreign word.
  4. It’s a good reminder that Australian citizens are also global citizens. That can be easy to forget in our corner of the world, but in many ways the modern world is a smaller world where the actions of people in one part of it have an impact on people in another part of it. The environment is just one (vital) area this important for.

It can be hard for LOTE teachers to be valued just for their behaviour management skills, or hear from parents (and colleagues!) that students should focus more on the ‘real’ or ‘important’ subjects. But LOTE adds so much to a child’s education and their development.

And that’s why your kid is learning a language.

Are you a LOTE teacher? What’s your experience been like? Or did you learn a language in school? Do you feel like you gained from it, or could you have done without it? I’d love to hear from you in comments.

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