While it is true that a university education is still a privilege these days, isn’t it also true that it should continue to be the responsibility of students to use their higher education to make a difference in society? Language is a fundamental aspect of a culture; communication and general comprehension between groups are what allow us to transcend borders and unite on one planet. The ability to speak another language has benefits for all areas of the public and of the self. For positive development of new generations (and society as a result), learning a second language should be seriously considered among all incoming students! I think every student should put in the effort to study a foreign language because I’ve experienced first hand all that there is to gain from doing so.
And what all do you have to gain besides, you know, another language? I’m glad you asked.
It teaches cultural appreciation in a world that could use more.
By really learning about another culture and not just taking it at surface value, you stop any prior judgement. Any previously standing stereotypes are shattered. You get an in-depth look at another group’s belief systems, the what and the how and the why behind certain customs. It’s so interesting and helps you understand the values that other people have. You see how their minds work, both as individuals and as a group, as well as how their lifestyles are similar and different to your own. It leads you to realize how truly diverse the world is, but it also enforces that that diversity is not a detriment to our success as a society.
You’ll be a better listener.
Learning another language forces you to pay more attention to what is being said. You pick up more on enunciation, accents, and sentence structures than you are used to doing in your native language. Because you listen to understand and not to respond, you’ll find yourself doing the same thing in day to day life, something that I believe is important in maintaning strong relationships in life anyway!
It can help you find your passion.
If you had the opportunity to find your true passion while still in school, wouldn’t you want to? You could discover what you really want to do in life without losing thousands of dollars on four years of a degree only to later find out you don’t actually like it. There was a guy in my class last semester who was graduating with a degree in mechanical engineering, but somewhere along the way realized his fascination with and ambitions for international relations. Sure, it may have been a little too late to change his major while still being able to graduate on time, but he knew the field he wanted to start his career in. He joined the Peace Corps and was able to pick up a minor in Spanish; overall, he could start down the path he wanted to without wasting valuable professional years in some technical job he wouldn’t be satisfied with. This is what college is for, right?
You open yourself up to a wider job market.
When you can speak another language, you don’t just have access to a wider variety of clientele domestically, but you can also bring your skills to another country. Being bilingual is attractive to many employers, both locally and abroad, so you have a much better chance of landing your dream job! Plus, just think of all the travel options…
It will push you out of your comfort zone.
For me, the big leap with language has always been speaking. In my college Spanish studies, though, I was constantly finding new discussion partners during class, going to group conversations outside of class, giving presentations both alone and in groups, and recording myself to play back later (cringe, I know). I’m thankful for all of this though as I would not have gotten to know as many people as I did without putting myself into situations outside of what I was comfortable doing.
Foreign language classes are also great in that they bring people in a variety of majors and from all backgrounds together; I’m not going to lie, sometimes it’s refreshing to be in a class that isn’t completely engineers 😉
You gain a more creative, flexible way of thinking.
One of my favorite games from Spanish classes over the years is similar to the game Taboo. In essence, one person has a secret word and they have to get their partner to guess that word without using basic giveaway words (if that makes any sense at all). It really makes you push your vocabulary knowledge and gives you practice at finding creative ways to say something if you don’t know exactly how to say what you want to.
It’s great practice for speaking in your native language too, especially for someone like me who is not good with words when put on the spot. Circular thinking can work sometimes, it’s actually a lot of fun!
It’s a welcome break from technical classes.
As a STEM major, when you spend your day going from math-based class to math-based class, sometimes it’s nice to spend an hour discussing culture, grammar, and literature. Don’t worry, because it’s in a different language, it’s actually a lot more interesting than it sounds!
I get that classes outside of your plan of study can be inconvenient or at an added cost of time and money, but the majority of institutions require students to take general education classes outside of their specific major anyway. I actually got most of my GEPs out of the way through the classes I was taking for my Spanish minor! At the end of the day, the extra time is worth it to me because I feel like I’m getting more out of my education.
You have access to even more movies, art, and literary works.
A second language opens up an entire new vault of media that, let’s be honest, you wouldn’t have bothered to look at beforehand. With a new outlook on a different culture, you can understand the underlying meanings behind a lot of these works and can really appreciate the messages they are trying to convey. Plus, being able to read a novel or watch a movie in a foreign language is pretty cool!
It will help you keep up with international news.
Seeing things from another perspective is always eye-opening. When you watch national news from the viewpoint of another culture, you get a different look on what you’ve been seeing in your daily life. You see opinions you may not have considered before. It’s also a great way to both practice your language skills while still keeping up with current events; getting two birds with one stone in college is always great!
Your native language will also improve.
When you focus so much on grammar in another language, it ends up making you more aware of your native grammar as well. You understand the foundation of language and how it works, which I think is just fascinating. I’ve also actually improved my English vocabulary after learning Spanish cognates for words I had never heard of before!
It’s such an incredible opportunity.
At the university level, so many different languages are available for you to learn, especially in comparison to those offered in high school. Many professors either have a graduate degree in the language or are a native speaker, so you have the chance to learn from the best. If you took a language in high school, chances are it was more grammar-based with remote memorization of vocabulary words. In the upper level college classes, though, the focus is more on culture, proficiency improvement, and changing the process in which you think. It’s learning the language without realizing how much else you’re truly learning.
In my most recent Spanish class, we never had vocabulary lists or straight grammar lessons or book exercises. We had conversations. We had music, movies, history, and debates. We had profound discussions, like the kind you would have in your native language with your friends at 2am. We got involved in everyday aspects of life, but did so in Spanish. From all of this, communication has become so much easier, an overall skill that is desirable in any discipline. I can honestly say I’ve improved significantly more in this single semester than I have in the past seven years I’ve been taking Spanish classes simply because we were so involved and integrated within the language.
We are a global society. As such, we need to learn appreciation and communication between cultures. We shouldn’t live in our own little bubbles. Actually, we can’t. The human experience comes with the intention of being shared. It presents the opportunity to know and interact with people of all walks of life and, overall, it helps you learn more about yourself. What more can you ask for?
~Which language do you want to learn?