Your kid won’t get a huge earnings benefit from knowing another language — but there are tons of other perks
Money speaks its own language.
Earlier this year, my husband and I faced a pricey decision: whether or not to send our toddler to a Spanish-language immersion nursery school. The part-time program would have cost us roughly $600 a month — a big stretch for our budget.
Still, I was for it. My parents never cared much about me learning another language — when I had to choose a language in high school, they encouraged me to take Latin so I’d ace the verbal section of the SATs — and to this day one of my biggest regrets is that I can’t speak a current language. Plus, I wanted my daughter to be able to communicate with the myriad kids who now speak other languages in this country — nearly 1 in 10 school-age kids don’t speak English as their primary language in the U.S. — and early childhood is apparently the best time to learn a language.
My French-and-English-speaking husband, on the other hand, just kept staring at the tuition sheet and shaking his head. “This is insane,” he told me of the price, reminding me that the program director had told us that, even after a year in the program, our toddler still probably wouldn’t speak that much Spanish, though she would understand plenty. Plus, he added, she could always learn it later, you know, when she attends public school.
In the end, we didn’t send her to that program — we decided we couldn’t afford it — though I feel plenty of mom-guilt over that decision. But should I? Is paying for foreign language classes a smart use of your money? The answer: It depends on what you’re hoping your child gets out of it.
It won’t translate into a huge earnings advantage when your child begins working
People who are bilingual only earn about 2% more per year than those who just speak one language, according to a study published in the journal The Review of Economics and Statistics. For someone making $40,000 a year, that’s only an additional $800.
Teaching someone to negotiate a salary will probably yield them more earnings than teaching them another language. A study of 700 employers by Nerdwallet found that about three in four of them said they were able to increase their first salary offer by 5-10% (though fewer than 4 in 10 people actually asked for more money).
However, some languages pay off more than others: Those who speak German or French in addition to English get more benefit than those who also speak Spanish, the language study found.
But it will help boost test scores and learning abilities
Multiple studies show that children who study foreign languages in elementary and middle school do better on standardized tests than those who don’t and have slightly higher scores on everything from vocabulary to math tests in the classroom.
But the school advantage doesn’t end there: “‘Cognitive traps,’ or simple mistakes in spelling or comprehension that our brains tend to make when taking linguistic shortcuts (such as how you can easily read “tihs senetcne taht is trerilby msispleld”), are better avoided when one speaks multiple languages,” according to data examined by The Atlantic.
And it may even keep them healthier
Knowing another language can help people stave off cognitive decline, according to a study of roughly 650 people published in the journal Neurology. “Overall, bilingual patients developed dementia 4.5 years later than the monolingual ones,” the study revealed. “The bilingual effect on age at dementia onset was shown independently of other potential confounding factors such as education, sex, occupation, and urban vs rural dwelling of subjects.”
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