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THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL

|

DECEMBER 2015

77

A

ny Foreign Service

employee would agree

that one of the joys of

Foreign Service life is

to experience the lan-

guage of the host coun-

try. In fact, many argue that learning

the native language opens up countless

opportunities for personal and cultural

enrichment for Foreign Service families.

And who among us learns that language

with the most ease and gusto? That’s

right; it’s our Foreign Service youth.

While English-language education

is available at most posts worldwide,

more and more Foreign Service families

are choosing to educate their children

in a language other than that spoken at

Marybeth Hunter (left) is an

education and youth specialist

in the State Department’s

Family Liaison Office.

Christine Brown, a regional

education officer, is the Office

of Overseas School’s resident

language expert.

home. To find out more about this trend

and to uncover the advantages and chal-

lenges of educating a child in a foreign

language, the Family Liaison Office

spoke to Regional Education Officer

and Office of Overseas Schools resident

language expert Christine Brown.

Family Liaison Office:

What are

the advantages and potential pitfalls of

raising a bilingual child?

Christine Brown:

Over the last 15

years there has been much research

conducted on the benefits of learning

one or more languages. Scientists have

noted that new neural pathways are

formed when children learn and use

more than one language. It appears

that the more complex the second

language, the greater the neurological

gain. The science suggests that learning

linguistically complex languages or

multiple languages from an early age

into adulthood may give a profound

cognitive boost.

Researchers outside the United States

have also looked at the impact that learn-

ing other languages has on one’s native

BY MARYBETH HUNTER AND CHR I ST I NE BROWN

language ability, especially in the areas

of reading comprehension, executive

brain functioning (memory, reasoning,

problem solving) and creativity. In the

United States, researchers have pointed

to a correlation between early language

learning (as well as the number of years

of language study) and improved scores

in English and mathematics on statewide

assessments. Likewise, for many years

the College Board has reported that stu-

dents who have studied language for four

consecutive years or longer have higher

SAT scores.

One challenge Foreign Service

parents face is what to do when their

children’s learning of a second language

is interrupted when moving to other

schools and countries. Sometimes

parents seek tutors to help students

maintain or gain a higher proficiency in

that language as they move around the

world. At other times, this is impractical.

Nevertheless, parents should rest

assured that students actually use the

strategies they gained learning their first

foreign language to make more rapid

progress in a second foreign language.

Multilingual Matters

How Foreign Service Students

Can Make the Most of Language-

Rich Experiences Abroad

EDUCATION SUPPLEMENT