Research shows that learning a second language at a young age has measurable cognitive benefits that correlate with higher achievement in other subjects as well. Here’s a look at some of this research.
There is evidence that early language learning improves cognitive abilities.
• Foster, K. M., & Reeves, C. K. (1989). “Foreign Language in the Elementary School (FLES) improves cognitive skills.” FLES News, 2(3), 4. This study looked at the relationship between elementary foreign language instruction and scores on tests designed to measure cognitive and metacognitive processes. The study included 67 sixth-grade students who were divided into four groups that differed by lengths of time in the foreign language program, including a control group who had no French instruction. The analysis found that students who had received foreign language instruction scored higher on tasks involving evaluation, which is the highest cognitive skill according to Bloom’s taxonomy—and the students who had studied French the longest performed the best.
Language learning correlates with higher academic achievement on standardized tests.
• Armstrong, P. W., & Rogers, J. D. (1997). “Basic skills revisited: The effects of foreign language instruction on reading, math, and language arts.” Learning Languages, 2(3), 20-31. Third-grade students from were randomly assigned to receive 30-minute Spanish lessons three times a week for one semester. Students in the Spanish classes scored significantly higher than the group that did not receive Spanish instruction in math and language on the Metropolitan Achievement Test (MAT); there was no significant difference in reading scores.
• Rafferty, E. A. (1986). Second language study and basic skills in Louisiana. U.S.; Louisiana, from ERIC database. A statewide study in Louisiana revealed that third, fourth, and fifth graders who participated in 30-minute elementary school foreign language programs in the public schools showed significantly higher scores on the 1985 Basic Skills Language Arts Test than did a similar group that did not study a foreign language. Further, by fifth grade, the math scores of language students were also higher than those of students not studying a foreign language. Both groups were matched for race, sex, and grade level, and the academic levels of students in both groups were estimated by their previous Basic Skills Test results and statistically equated.