In the United States, the majority of students who learn a second language do not begin learning this language until the age of 14, or when they enter high school. However, studies have shown that there are several benefits to learning a foreign language earlier in life, and many elementary schools are offering foreign language courses, as well. Spanish is the foreign language most commonly taught at the elementary school level, followed by French, Latin and Chinese. In a market in which the demand for bilingual individuals is growing rapidly, the earlier the student can begin his or her language learning the better. Not only do students who begin learning a second language in elementary school often show improved test scores and cognitive function over those who do not, but these students are also 70% more likely to reach an intermediate level of communication than those who begin in high school. This means that the early language learner has a much higher chance of effectively using these skills in the marketplace as an adult. As more and more companies expand and do business overseas, the ability to be able to speak and interact with those who speak another language will be more important than ever.
Those who are able to master a second language from an early age are also more likely to continue to develop their language skills throughout life. One way that they are able to do so is by developing skills needed for translation and interpretation, industries that continue to grow year after year. While simply being bilingual isn't enough for most translation and interpretation projects, those individuals who have the strong grasp of a second language from an early age are better equipped to master the art of translation or interpretation as an adult. A person who did not learn the language until later in life has to focus on both learning the language and the skills needed for translation and interpretation within a shorter time period.
In Europe, 80% of students speak a second language, but only 14% of students in the US consider themselves bilingual. When you couple results like higher test scores and cognitive function with a higher propensity for specialized language application later on, introducing a foreign language program into an elementary school level curriculum seems to make a good deal of sense, as it would allow the US to better position skilled bilingual workers in an ever-expanding global market.