Experts agree that students who study foreign languages usually have higher scores on ACT/SAT tests than their peers, especially in subjects like reading, math, and vocabulary.


The reason behind these findings is that the brain acts like a muscle: it works better with exercise. When you learn a foreign language like Spanish, your brain is memorizing rules and vocabulary, strengthening the “mental muscle.”


These exercises help improve your overall memory; therefore, multilingual students are better at remembering lists or sequences than monolingual students.


The secret lies in the basis that learning a second language is more of a cognitive rather than a linguistic activity. In other words, your brain is acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience and the senses when learning a second language.


As you learn a new language, you are practicing skills like critical thinking, creativity, flexibility, and problem solving. These cognitive activities become crucial to the students during ACT/SAT tests. Even though Math has little to do with Spanish, your brain has exercised the areas that entail problem solving and critical thinking in order to communicate and understand a second language; thus, having a profound effect in math scores.


In fact, having to communicate in another language enables your flexibility, like having to wait for relief, when struggling to ask for a glass of water.


The same can be said when answering an ACT question that requires more effort on your part. If you learn Spanish, you enable your brain to deal with the problem, rather than giving it up, overcoming your obstacle. Likewise, your brain will be flexible and able to solve the ACT/SAT questions because it is accustomed to do so, provided that you have strengthened it with a second language, etc.


Furthermore, learning Spanish will cause your brain to think critically. If you are bilingual, your brain is an automatic translating engine. As you receive information in a second language, your brain is processing it and relating it to your native language. This action provokes critical thinking.  It raises questions and reasons behind word structures.


When you cannot substitute the word “embarrassed” for embarazada in Spanish, if you are an English speaker, your brain becomes critical and analyses the reason behind it: the translation for “embarrassed” is avergonzado. As a result, your brain has learned to discriminate and acquire the correct information in order to thrive.  Therefore, your brain is conditioned to solve ACT/SAT questions that require a similar level of critical thinking.


In addition, there are many idiomatic expressions and proverbs that require creativity on the part of the foreign listener. Upon hearing the saying, “de tal palo, tal astilla” ("of such stick, such splinter") your brain will immediately imagine a stick and a splinter. It will create a way to process that information and apply it to a truth. It will question the source to obtain an answer. It will ponder until the words make sense and you have a complete understanding of this word combination.


The meaning of this proverb is that the product will be true to its source. The equivalent in American English is “as the mother, so is her daughter.” Interestingly, your brain has become creative by drawing a stick and a splinter in your imagination, along with its association to the truth behind it.


If you have an ACT/SAT question that requires drawing a diagram, picture associations, etc., your brain already has the skills to create, associate and discriminate, after studying a second language.


For instance, one of my italki colleagues has shared his experience about the language immersion program in which his parents enrolled him throughout his entire elementary school years.

On his first day of school, he attended classes, where Spanish was the only language spoken. At first, he did not understand anything the teacher would say to the class. With time, he began to comprehend, speak and learn school materials in Spanish.


For the following eight years, his entire schooling took place in Spanish alone. It is not surprising that today he is a physicist, a linguist, and speaks three languages fluently and with hardly any accent. The same person plays several musical instruments, has lived in several foreign countries, and is a highly intellectual individual.


In conclusion, you are learning beyond words while learning a second language. It is no surprise that a person will be a higher score achiever if he speaks a foreign language.


The brain is sharpening these cognitive skills that are indispensable to perform well on ACT/SAT test on regular basis, while learning a brand new language. However, if you only speak one language, this could be a great opportunity to consider becoming bilingual.

Consider the positive effects that you can have in your scores as a result of speaking Spanish.


Hero Image (Nevermore!) by Pablo (CC BY-SA 2.0)