According to the British Council, around 62% of native English-speakers are unable to speak a second language, with most students giving up learning a foreign language by age 14. Speaking a second language is one of the most useful life skills a person can have, but despite this, fewer than 20% of native English-speaking students pursue any type of language study beyond an elementary level.
In an increasingly globalised world, few skills will improve your opportunities – or those of your children – in the way that learning a second language can. There are so many benefits to being bilingual, be it in the business world or daily life, and these benefits run from early childhood to old age, when being bilingual is thought to stave off the early onset of dementia.
Raw statistics suggest that proficiency in at least one foreign language can improve a worker’s employability by as much as 25%, and that bilinguals generally earn between 5-20% more than their monolingual counterparts. With almost half of employers listing proficiency in foreign languages as a highly employable characteristic, being able to speak a second language is sure to show any prospective employer that one is a cut above the rest.
Besides making you vastly more employable, there are a number of more general benefits to learning a second language. These can help your child succeed both during their developmental stages and later in life.
Improved brain functionality
The processes involved in attempting to learn a foreign language can improve brain functionality and general cognition. Not only do students studying languages generally score higher in standardized testing, but they also enjoy better problem-solving and decision-making skills, superior multitasking capabilities and improved working memory relative to those who can’t speak a second language.
As children’s brains are already wired to help them learn language as they grow up, it’s not too much of a stretch for most children to grow up learning two languages instead of one, with their brain functionality and general cognition benefiting during the process.
Which languages should I teach my child?
With the number of languages worldwide estimated to be more than 6,500, it can be difficult to decide which languages are worth putting in the time and effort to master.
Thankfully, a recent study by the Centre for Economics and Business Research and Opinion has help to shed some light on this. The team surveyed over 2,000 parents with children under 18, along with 500 business leaders. Their goal was to establish the best languages you should be teaching your children to maximise their future employability. Their results suggest that Mandarin, French, and German, are among the best languages to learn in order to maximise your (and your child’s) opportunities and employability in the next ten years.
With that in mind, here is a little more detailed overview of the top five languages you should teach your children to boost their career prospects.
Despite the complexity and difficulty of the language, there is no question that few languages will open up opportunities quite like Mandarin. It is the most spoken language in the world, spoken by around 15% of the global population. Fluency in Mandarin will allow you access to the largest global economy and workforce, comprising more than 1.2 billion people.
According to the British council, 49% of UK businesses list a proficiency in French as a highly employable skill. At the time of writing, France is one of the UK’s closest and most important partners in trade.
As the native language of the largest economy in Europe, proficiency in German will open a range of opportunities across the continent. Supposedly coming easy to native English speakers due to common roots, German can be a relatively simple language to master, thus making an excellent addition to any future polyglot’s repertoire.
Spanish is the world’s second most widely spoken language. With almost 70% of US language students selecting Spanish as their language of choice, it is the fastest growing taught language in the world. Spanish has around half a billion speakers and becoming proficient in it can open doors in Spain, Latin America and certain parts of the US. Latin American economies, such as Argentina, Chile and Columbia, are some of the fastest-growing in the world.
Russia is one of the largest economies in Europe (it is on track to overtake Germany by 2030). Proficiency in Russian will open up a range of opportunities in the world’s largest country (by area). With Russia a regular and prominent player in world politics and current events, Russian translation is a highly sought-after for its diplomatic significance.
Boosting your children’s chances
Teaching your children a foreign language gives them a fantastic additional skill that can boost their employability significantly. They will also benefit from vastly improved networking options and obtain a host of cognitive benefits from the process, which can help to improve virtually every aspect of their academic and working life.
With the cognitive benefits of learning a second language not limited to specific languages, teaching your child any language at all can not only help improve their general academic performance, but also set them far above any monolingual applicant in the eyes of future employers. Encouraging bilingualism in our children is a worthwhile endeavour for any parent who hopes not only to boost their child’s employability, but also foster a curiosity to explore the world and an appreciation of other cultures – all valuable skills in our increasingly globalised world.
Which foreign languages are you teaching your child? What do you hope they will gain from the experience?