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Learning a Second Language

By Carolina Mirrales and Maria Beatriz Cardona

“Learning to speak another’s language means taking one’s place in the human community. It means reaching out to other’s across cultural and linguistic boundaries. Language is far more that a system to be explained. It is our most important link to the world around us. Language is culture in motion. It is people interacting with people.”

Savignon, S. (1983)
Communicative Competence: Theory and Classroom Practice.
Reading, Massachusetts, USA. Addison Wesley

People in Latin America and in Spain have an avid interest in the English language. In these countries, newscasts, important Internet sites, economic exchanges and politics all require knowledge of English as bridge between cultures. In the United State, the Hispanic population is growing minute by minute. We are predicted to be a majority minority country by 2040. Hispanics are already a major and important subculture in Colorado and Boulder/Denver today. There are massive benefits to learning Spanish in the United States, and especially in Colorado, today. Beyond the ability to speak a certain language, in our opinion, learning a second language is an increasingly critical tool for students to catch up with our increasingly global and interconnected culture.

As native speakers and teachers of the Spanish language we see great benefits of learning a second language: the appreciation of a different culture, history and heritage; appreciation of arts and literature; the possibility of observing different perspectives. In each class we also try to give students the opportunity to foster each of the IB Learner Profiles.  Learning a second language and appreciating another’s culture requires from students to be an Inquirer, bringing curiosity to every aspect of the language and culture. To be a Communicator, making an effort to express themselves in another language. Being Open Minded and Reflective exploring different perspectives and traditions and understanding how they might be different than their own. Being Principled and Balanced as they show respect to different cultures and recognize how the world is interconnected and populated by many different cultures. Caring when they show empathy and respect to others who may think or live differently than they do. Most importantly, learning a new language is the very definition of International Mindedness as it opens the world to our students.

 

Beyond the cultural benefits, there are other benefits related to brain health when learning a second language. If we think of the brain as a muscle, the effort of learning a new language impacts multiple areas of the brain. Studies have showed that children studying a second language at that early age develop neural connections that will make them more competent over a lifetime. Learning a second language benefits the flexibility needed solve problems. Being bilingual benefits the understanding and use of your mother tongue. “Learning another language can enhance knowledge of English structure and vocabulary.” (Curtain & Dahlberg, 2004) “Early second language study promotes achievement in English vocabulary and reading skills.” (Masciantonio, 1977)
Although learning Spanish from an early age, like Kindergarten at Mackintosh Academy is the best approach to second language acquisition, it is never too late to start. Learning a second language at any age will benefit your cultural understanding and your brain health.

Of course, our favorite use of a second language comes with all of the opportunities to use that language when you travel to wonderful places full of history, places with interesting geography and exotic culture. We hope that you will visit our own home countries and explore our wonderful cultures. You could not only find a new perspective but give your brain a wonderful boost!