Language Learning

Language Learning in a Digital Environment

The importance of world language and educational innovation for students, parents, educators and policymakers

March 27, 2014

You may have noticed that over the past several months there have been numerous studies on the benefits of learning a new language. It seems like almost every week there’s a new story on how learning a language can be good for you. It helps better prepare students for academic and career success (some estimates say that can increase your salary by up to 20%); it boosts creativity; it heightens your brain’s efficiency and agility; and it increases empathy and cultural awareness. It has even been shown to help delay Alzheimer’s disease. What’s more, these benefits can be enhanced when language learning begins at a young age.

You would think that with something proven to be this beneficial, more and more U.S. schools would offer world language courses. Unfortunately, the opposite is true: from 1997 to 2008 the number of middle school students enrolled in a second language course dropped from 75% to 58%. Elementary school enrollments fell from an already low 31% to 25% over that same period.

In the U.S., most students take only two years of language compared with nine years in Europe. It’s no surprise that more than half of European Union residents are bilingual compared to less than one-in-five here. This educational breakdown is undercutting the economic competitiveness of our citizens – and the country as a whole.

I’ve just cited a bunch of statistics, some of them dire. But the good news is that the mounting evidence on the benefits of language learning and the introduction of new classroom innovations have created momentum to make second language instruction available to more students.

While we view this blog as a place to highlight important developments in second language acquisition, digital learning tools and world cultural trends, we won’t lose sight of fact that learning a new language allows us to do one fundamental thing: make stronger connections with people in our own neighborhoods and across the world.

We recently visited one of our smallest schools, Coventry Village School, to talk with students and faculty about their new French program. Coventry serves 100 students K-8 in a school just 10 miles from the Canadian border. Through our partnership with Middlebury College that offers Vermont schools with discounted access to our courses and teacher professional development, Coventry now has a language program for the first time in its history – allowing these students, many with French-Canadian backgrounds, to make new educational, economic and cultural connections with the world around them.

Sometimes it’s nice to get a reminder of why we do what we do. Here is a very brief interview with an adorable Coventry third grader named Carly that helps us put things in perspective. Thanks for reading, and please come back often.

Jane Swift
In addition to leading our company, Jane is the mother of three teenage girls, a Williams College lecturer and a perennial contender to win the company’s March Madness pool. Jane was MA’s first woman Governor and first one in the U.S. to give birth (to twins) while in office. Jane made education her priority during her decade-plus public service career and helped MA become the nation’s top education state.
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