I've been reading the article in the New Scientist concerning the advantages of speaking a second language. Research now being done suggests that speaking more than one language changes the way we think, the way we tackle problems and face life in general. There are health benefits as well - being bilingual makes one less likely to suffer from some forms of Alzheimer's, for example. According to the research, speaking two languages enhances a persons cognitive ability, but this is really only the beginning. It also affects memory, with certain memories changing according to the language being spoken. Certain 'values and even a person's personality may change according to the language as well.
Educationists have argued about some aspects for years, with the "settled science" of the early 1900s "consensus" being that teaching a child a second language "confused the child a diminished the ability to learn properly." It was further argued that the child would have a lower IQ, not learn to speak either language properly and be an under achiever. It is this mindset which has probably entrenched some of the thinking about teaching other languages in schools even now, the children in the UK not starting a second language in state schools until they are 12. (Other research - not done in the UK - suggests the best age is at least 6 years earlier.)
I suspect the arguments over this research are just about to be launched. Personally, as I speak (and have done for most of my life) two and now three languages, I am convinced it has helped my development, both mentally and intellectually. Convincing the "educationists" in Whitehall, however, may be another matter ...
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