Why Spanish?

Spanish is spoken by at least an estimated 350 million people around the world and is currently the 4th most commonly spoken language worldwide. Some of the benefits of learning Spanish include:

  • Higher academic achievement.
  • Increased brain development and cognitive function.
  • The prevention of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia related illnesses.
  • An increase in professional success and career opportunities.
  • Access to, understanding and knowledge of another culture.
  • Ability to travel to Spanish-speaking countries with ease.
  • Ability to study abroad for school.
  • Make lifelong friendships.
  • Gain access to Spanish art, music, literature and film.
  • Transferable language skills that make learning a third, fourth, etc language much easier.
  • Increased understanding of native-language (English).

“A pervasive lack of knowledge about foreign cultures and foreign languages threatens the security of the United States as well as its ability to compete in the global marketplace and produce an informed citizenry. The U.S. education system has, in recent years, placed little value on speaking languages other than English or on understanding cultures other than one’s own. Although there have been times in the country’s history when foreign languages were considered as important as mathematics and science, they have reemerged as a significant concern primarily after major events that presented immediate and direct threats to the country’s future. Most recently, the events of September 11, 2001, compelled the federal government to reflect on the expertise of its personnel and to focus attention on the need for more and better language skills, particularly in certain languages considered critical. It would be shortsighted, however, to limit national attention to the needs of government alone. Language skills and cultural expertise are also urgently needed to address economic challenges and the strength of American businesses in an increasingly global marketplace. Professions such as law, health care, social work, and education call out for an international dimension that reflects the changed world environment and increasingly diverse U.S. population. The U.S. education system—from elementary and secondary school to higher education—needs the capacity to provide the requisite training. Higher education needs the 1 capacity to serve as a resource on the politics, economics, religions, and cultures of countries across the globe, countries whose positions on the world stage change over time, often in unpredictable ways.” (National Research Council 2007)

Scientific studies that support learning a foreign language: 

1. Research suggests that language learners develop a more positive attitude toward the target language and/or speakers of that language.

Bamford, K. W., & Mizokawa, D. T. (1989). Cognitive and attitudinal outcomes of an additive-bilingual program. U.S.; Washington:  ED305826

A study compared language skill development and cultural attitudes of second-grade children taught in an additive-bilingual program setting with those of second-grade children from a monolingual classroom setting. Zooming in on the attitude question: The researchers hypothesized that the Spanish-immersion group would be more positive than the control group on the Cross-Cultural Attitude Inventory (CCAI), an instrument that is a measure of attitudes toward Mexican-American culture.The results of the analysis revealed a significant change in attitudes towards Hispanic culture between the fall and spring administrations in favor of the Spanish-immersion group.  In the discussion section, the authors suggest that the results support Gardner’s model of language acquisition which proposes that attitudes towards the target language community may be outcomes of second language learning.

2. Language learning correlates with higher academic achievement on standardized test measures.

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.    These lessons focused on oral-aural skills and were conducted entirely in Spanish.  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.

3. Language learning is beneficial in the development of students’ reading abilities.

D’Angiulli, A., Siegel, L. S., & Serra, E. (2001). The development of reading in English and Italian in bilingual children. Applied Psycholinguistics, 22(4), 479-507. from PsycINFO database.

This study analyzes the reading abilities of 81 English-speaking Canadian-born children (ages 9-13) who had been exposed to Italian at home, where both languages were spoken by their middle-class parents.   The children attended an Italian heritage language class every day for 35 minutes, starting in the first grade.  English and Italian monolingual comparison groups of students were used, which matched students on age.  English monolingual students were comparable to bilingual students in that they lived in same geographical area, were taught using similar methods, and had comparable socioeconomic status.  The Italian monolingual students from northern Italywere similar to the bilingual group in socioeconomic status and family background.  A series of word reading, pseudoword reading, spelling, working memory, and oral cloze tasks were administered in each language.  Findings indicate significant similar levels of performance in both languages, with correlations between English and Italian word reading, pseudoword reading, and spelling.  In comparing 9-10 year-old bilinguals to English monolinguals on tasks in English, the bilingual skilled readers scored higher on word-reading and spelling tasks than the monolingual skilled readers, although no differences were found on psuedoword reading tasks, working memory, or oral cloze tasks. 

Diaz, J. O. P. (1982). The effects of a dual language reading program on the reading ability of Puerto Rican students. Reading Psychology, 3(3), 233-238. from ERIC database.

This study revealed that Puerto Rican students recently arrived in the United States who participated in a bilingual reading program in Spanish and English performed significantly better than did similar students who did not participate in the program.

4. There is evidence that language learners transfer skills from one language to another.

Cunningham, T. H., & Graham, C. R. (2000). Increasing native English vocabulary recognition through Spanish immersion: Cognate transfer from foreign to first language. Journal of Educational Psychology, 92(1), 37-49. from PsycINFO database.

Effects of Spanish immersion on children’s native English vocabulary were studied. Matched on grade, sex, and verbal scores on a 4th-grade Cognitive Abilities Test (CAT), 30 5th- and 6th-grade immersion students and 30 English monolinguals did 60 consecutive Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test (PPVT) items. The CAT and conventionally scored PPVT revealed comparable verbal ability between groups, but on 60 consecutive PPVT items, immersion did better than control because of cognates. On SECT, immersion significantly outperformed students in the control group. Findings support the idea that Spanish immersion has English-language benefits and that positive transfer (cross linguistic influence) occurs from Spanish as a foreign language to native English receptive vocabulary.

5. Language learning can benefit all students.

Holobow, N. E.,  Genesee, F., Lambert, W. E., & Gastright, J. (1987). Effectiveness of partial French immersion for children from different social class and ethnic backgrounds. Applied Psycholinguistics, 8(2), 137-151. from PsycINFO database.

Evaluated a program of partial (half-day) French immersion in kindergarten. The English and French language development of 122 native English-speaking children from both working and middle class backgrounds was assessed. Results indicate that the 73 experimental students progressed just as well in English as 70 matched controls who followed a conventional all-English program. It was also found that socioeconomically underprivileged students (both Black and White) benefited from an immersion-type introduction to a foreign language as much as students from middle class homes did. Degree of progress in French was not linked with social class background, even though this background factor clearly affected performance on the English language tests.

6. There is a correlation between language study and higher scores on the SAT and ACT tests.

Cooper, T. C. (1987). Foreign language study and SAT-verbal scores. Modern Language Journal, 71(4), 381-387. from ERIC database.

Comparison of verbal Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) and California Achievement Test (CAT) scores of high school students who had or had not taken at least one year of foreign language study supported the conclusion that length of foreign language study was positively related to high SAT verbal scores.

Eddy, P. A. (1981). The effect of foreign language study in high school on verbal ability as measured by the scholastic aptitude test-verbal. final report. U.S.; District of Columbia, from ERIC database

Students in the eleventh grade in three Montgomery County, Maryland high schools were the subjects of a study to determine the effect of foreign language study on performance on the verbal section of the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT). The following results were reported: (1) when verbal ability is controlled, students who study foreign language for longer periods of time will do better on various SAT sub-tests and on the SAT-Verbal as a whole than students who have studied less foreign language; (2) having studied two foreign languages has no significant effect on SAT scores or on scores on the Test of Academic Progress (TAP); (3) language studied has no differential effect on SAT or TAP scores; and (4) there is some evidence that higher grades in foreign language study will increase the effect of this study on SAT scores (particularly the reading and vocabulary sub-scores). In conclusion, it appears that the effect of foreign language study makes itself felt more in the area of vocabulary development than it does in that of English structure use.

7. There is a correlation between high school foreign language study and higher academic performance at the college level.

Wiley, P. D. (1985). High school foreign language study and college academic performance. Classical Outlook, 62(2), 33-36. from ERIC database.

Examines the correlation between high school foreign language study and success in college. Found that those who studied Latin, French, German, or Spanish in high school may be expected to perform better academically in college than students of equal academic ability who do not take a foreign language.

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