How Studying a Foreign Language Can Help on the ACT, SAT News2america

Many U.S. high schools require students to take one year or more of a foreign language. While this may seem like an inconvenience to some, knowledge of a foreign language is actually beneficial. In fact, it can translate to improved performance in other academic areas.

Not convinced? Here are three ways that foreign language study in an area like Latin or Spanish can work in your favor on the ACT or SAT.

Increased Aptitude With Vocabulary

Vocabulary goes hand-in-hand with reading comprehension – each skill complements the other. If you are a strong reader, you can likely determine the meaning of unfamiliar words using context clues. Similarly, if you have a wide vocabulary, you can typically make better sense of the texts you read.

There are high-frequency vocabulary words you can study before the ACT or SAT to improve your reading comprehension and, if applicable, essay-writing skills.

Another way to indirectly strengthen your vocabulary is by learning common prefixes, root words and suffixes, many of which stem from Latin. Thus, studying Latin or a closely related Romance language such as French, Italian or Spanish can make you more adept at deducing the meanings of words in ACT and SAT texts that are new to you.

Consider this example: Suppose you encounter the word “ambivalent” in an SAT reading passage. You are unsure what it means, but its prefix reminds you of the Spanish word “ambos,” which means “both.” Since the passage is describing a character’s state of mind, you might conclude that ambivalent means experiencing two emotions, which is not far off from the real meaning: having mixed or contradictory feelings.

By understanding that the prefix “amb” or “ambi” means “both,” you could also figure out the meaning of other words that start the same way, such as “ambiguous,” which means having a double meaning or open to more than one interpretation.

Improved Critical Reading Skills

When students read texts in a foreign language class, it is often for a specific purpose, such as to locate instances of a verb tense or to find answers to the accompanying questions. Unless you are truly enamored by the tongue you study, you probably do not read passages written in a foreign language purely for entertainment purposes.

In addition, a great deal of the time, you may be given texts you find rather difficult because they exceed your current level. This is a purposeful approach taken by foreign language teachers to prod students forward in their language journey. As a result, you may get into the habit of reading for “gist” – to understand only the main idea of the passage.

Since reading in a foreign language at the high school level is usually done with a specific goal in mind and to understand main ideas rather than details, it shares much in common with the type of reading required of students on the ACT and SAT. In effect, practicing reading comprehension in foreign language class and outside of it can train you to read critically, like you must do on the ACT and SAT.

Better Memory Recall

Foreign language is a discipline that, at least in the early stages of study, involves a decent amount of rote memorization. Sometimes the simplest way to learn verb conjugations, for instance, is by practicing with charts and flashcards. If you study German, you may have also had to memorize adjective declensions. The ACT and SAT also require a fair amount of content memorization.

Memory is like a muscle. The more you use it, the stronger it becomes. Viewed from this lens, learning a foreign language can improve your memory. In fact, the cognitive benefits of foreign language study have been long documented, with some research indicating that those who speak more than one language exhibit a significant delay in the onset of Alzheimer’s disease symptoms and dementia.

More than just training your recall capacity, foreign language studies can lead you to discover mnemonic devices – tricks for jogging your memory – that you can then transfer to other content areas. For instance, those who have studied the Spanish subjunctive tense may know that acronyms like “WEIRDO” work particularly well when it comes to making associations.

As you get to know yourself as a student and experiment with different study tricks, consider applying your findings to your test prep endeavors. The advantages of foreign language study are numerous, with one of the most notable being sharpened skills needed for ACT and SAT prep and your official exam day.

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