person from Cuba (Henry)

Speaking a second language

Henry's goosebump moment

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Speaking English as a second language in public – Henry’s goosebump moment

(text video)


“Hello there! This is Henry from Cuba, and I am going to be telling you about my goosebump moment. So, my goosebump moment comes from back when I was in high school, me being a Spanish speaking person, which is my first language and I had to go to high school back in America. I remember one day the teacher told me to speak up in front of the whole class. I remember that time with a lot of joy in my heart because that was the time that I started realizing that I had to speak English in order to survive in America, in order to make friends, in order to get good grades and everything. So, I managed to pull it off and introduced myself in English and it was an amazing time. Every time I remember that I felt very happy. So, that is my goosebump moment.”

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The satisfaction of expressing yourself fluently in another language

Immersing yourself in a new language is an experience that is equal parts satisfying and frustrating, especially the feeling that it is easier to understand native speakers than it is to address them in their own language. Proficiency in a second language is a necessity in an increasingly globalized world and an increasingly competitive job market.

According to a study in The Journal of Neuroscience, bilingual people have better cognitive flexibility, i.e., they are better able to adapt to unexpected circumstances than those who are not bilingual. In addition, mastering a second language helps to improve attention and communication skills, to exercise memory, to develop the ability to multitask and even facilitates the process of learning a third language.

The importance of learning a second language

The cognitive benefits of learning a new language are undeniable. Those who can speak more than one language have a better memory, better problem solving, critical thinking skills, stronger concentration, and better listening skills.

Are there really that many advantages to speaking another language? Well, by knowing another language you get to see everything through the perspective of a different culture. You should keep in mind that the words and grammar in another language reflect the way of thinking of its speakers. That allows you to get a whole new way of looking at the world.

That is why bilingual people often show greater signs of creativity and flexibility. Ideally, this type of education should be accessed when you are still a teenager, as it is easier to internalize new knowledge.

When learning a new language, it is very easy to make mistakes, especially in the initial stages. Many times, this happens when you are in front of many people in the classroom. The truth is that making mistakes and assuming them in a good way is part of the learning process.

Learning a new language involves stepping out of your comfort zone and facing new situations without fear, in a space where everyone is a beginner. The result is a great sense of accomplishment in speaking fluently and confidently in a second language.

Another advantage of speaking another language is that it could be the skill that really makes a big difference in the professional field. In fact, the current demand for bilingual professionals is on the rise. In addition, English is the lingua franca that allows people to communicate all over the world.

It is no secret that having a good level of English is a prerequisite for many jobs nowadays, regardless of the specialty sector or skill level of that position. You can be sure that in the future its importance will not diminish.

 

How a bilingual brain works

The way our brains acquire language (and we learn to speak) has been extensively studied by the scientific community, but there is no single theory that explains the process by which it is achieved. Between the innatism of Noam Chomsky (who argues that children are born with innate language skills that are activated depending on the environment), constructivism or theories that suggest that it is through communication and interaction with the environment that a child learns to speak, there are several explanations for how our brains acquire language, many of them derived from the work of Jean Piaget.

Studies such as those from the University of Washington’s Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences suggest that children up to the age of seven find it much easier to learn two languages, and to cope at the same level with both. One of their researchers, Andrew N. Meltzoff, explained to the newspaper El País that, from the age of eight to 18, learning becomes “more academic and slower”, and it is more difficult to speak a second language as naturally as our mother tongue.

Three factors are involved in the way a person learns two languages: the age of language acquisition, how well that language is spoken and the cognitive control of the language, that is, the process of selecting one language over the other in the case of bilinguals. In the first factor, it has already been demonstrated that the period of learning our mother tongue is in the first years of life. But are there differences between the way in which children in this early period of their lives also acquire a second language?

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