Languages key to success in school, life - regardless of age - new Northcentral University PhD is convinced

The better a person can speak someone else's language, the more likely they are to have an abiding fluency for life in general.

That's the world according to Dr. Jennifer Thomson, who received her PhD from Northcentral University this past spring. Her dissertation, named one of the University's three best in 2011, shows convincingly that multilingualism is the common denominator for success in school and in life, she firmly believes.

Talking the same language is a phrase that has always applied in her life and career, and that has never applied more than in today's ever-more-global economy and culture for just about everyone, she said.

Her father, who spoke in her stead at a special ceremony honoring her dissertation, was in the U.S. Air Force 29 years. Dr. Thomson was born in Germany while her father was stationed there.

"My dad fell in love with Europe and continually extended his tours rather than return to bases in the States," she said. "We lived in Germany, Greece, Italy, Holland, Portugal, and we did go back to Michigan for two years when I attended first or second grade, and then right back to Europe again."

The family didn't stay still during summer breaks. They would take extended road trips throughout Europe. Before Dr. Thomson was 10 years old, she had visited nearly every western European country.

"Dad made sure we visited the States every few summers though, and wed go on road trips from coast to coast," she said. "I had probably been to nearly every (U.S.) national park by the time I was 10 as well."

She has also visited each of the 50 states.

"Aside from marketability, learning a foreign language is just plain good for your brain," Dr. Thomson said, noting that she is even more focused on early language training, given that she and her husband are expecting their first child in September.

In grade school, "I often heard other students complain, 'Why do I need to learn Spanish? I'm never going to use it.' ... 'So what?' I would think, 'Who cares if you'll ever use Spanish? Learn the language, and you'll do better at your own language, you'll do better on your math final in June.'"

Wouldn't it just be logical that bright students naturally tend to seek foreign language training and therefore naturally tend to do better in school as a result?

"That's a good question," she said. But "entire groups of students learned a foreign language, with bright, average, and low performers mixed in, and their scores compared to their peers without foreign language, and the students who were bright, average, and low performers still did better than the bright, average, low performers of the other group," she said.

Other studies and personal observation also show that even infants living in multilingual homes perform better in early cognitive assessments than infants who grow up in monolingual homes, she added.

Does the same hold true for adult Students?

"Regardless of the age of the Student, the Student receives positive cognitive effects (from knowing a foreign language)," Dr. Thomson said. However, the younger a person is, the easier languages are to learn. Obviously, the earlier those benefits are realized, the longer their positive effects last.

"Everyone worldwide should be open to learning another language," she said. "In my experience living in Europe, Asia, and the United States, as a child and as an adult, Ive come to believe people are more tolerant of different values from other cultures when they learn a new language."

Dr. Thomson, whose husband is currently enrolled at Northcentral, said she has wanted "Dr." in front of her name as long as she can remember, and recalls asking her father how to do it.

"He would tell me you can do anything you want to do," she said. "And he somehow made sure all three of his children got the education they wanted and he believed they deserved."

In a final observation about language in the virtual world, Dr. Thomson said:

"We need to learn another language not only to make ourselves competitive for international jobs, but to make ourselves competitive for domestic ones as well. Were not just competing with Americans; were competing with the world for U.S. jobs."

"Its like that in nearly every country," she added. "Europe and Asia are both willing to hire Americans, but applicants need to be competitive with those within the local country, too."

Dr. Thomson was a Dissertation of the Year award winner at the June 2011 Northcentral University commencement. She earned her PhD in Education specializing in Educational Leadership.

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