Foreign languages have much more to offer than you’d think

I recently found a $2 gem on the discount shelf of a bookstore. I was thrilled to discover that it was actually an entertaining story.

Anthony Capella’s “The Food of Love” was intriguing because it brought storytelling and learning together. While the three main characters weave their way in and out of a love triangle in Italy, Capella teaches the reader how to cook sensual meals and Italian words and phrases.

Because of this book, I can now tell a guy to “vatte a fa’ ‘nu giro, a fessa e mammata” — piss off back into the orifices of your mother from which you were delivered — or “hai voluto la bicicletta? E pedala!” — the Italian way of saying “you made your bed, now sleep in it.”

The book was enjoyable but I would have enjoyed the Italian phrases more if I’d known a foreign language. My two years of undergraduate French help me understand words in romance languages, but I was never be able to use French. Most Americans have a hard time learning a foreign language well enough to use it, too. That or they’ve never tried to learn one at all.

Because of this, Americans are behind in the foreign language department. Since 1974 all European countries except Ireland and Britain — both English-speaking countries — have required children to learn another language when they begin school. When they enter secondary school, they’re required to learn at least two — and for good reason.

Children learn languages faster and more easily than adults and teenagers. Just having a baby listen to music from another country will help him or her speak that language with better dialect. Babies are able to mimic the sounds of other languages.

Francois Thibaut runs The Language Workshop for Children, which has nine schools on the East Coast. In a USA Today article, Thibaut said children who learned foreign languages did better in school, scored higher on standardized tests, were better problem solvers and were more open to diversity.

Foreign language knowledge not only helps children, but can also help people get into college; balance school, work and extracurricular activities and lead a more diversified life.

The sooner you learn another language, the better off you are. But even if you’re in college it’s not too late. And for those of you who have nieces, nephews or children of your own, consider buying them a foreign-language computer program or a CD of foreign music. They’ll thank you when they’re grown.

Jodi Ann Holopirek Daily Kansan University of Kansas U-Wire