My take: why studying languages ​​should be part of your college experience – Schools of Thought


by Russell Berman, Special for CNN

Editor’s note: Russell A. Berman is the 2011 President of the Modern Languages ​​Association and Professor of Comparative Literature and German Studies at Stanford University.

In college, students are faced with a dizzying array of possible subjects to study. As a result, you have the freedom to decide on your courses. The range of subjects can be exhilarating, but with the freedom to choose quickly comes the need to make selections. Where do you want to focus? What choices do you want to explore? What skills do you want to develop during your university years? It is important to plan your college learning carefully by setting goals and pursuing them consistently.

One of the best choices you can make when planning your college years is deciding to learn a foreign language, regardless of your major. Learning another language will open the door to another culture and improve your career opportunities in an increasingly globalized economy. Having strong skills in another language can give you an advantage when applying for a job. This unique ability will set you apart from other applicants and show a potential employer that you have demonstrated long-term discipline in acquiring specialist knowledge.

Studying a language will also develop your overall language skills – in English too – and strengthen your interpreting and comprehension skills. Learning the grammar of another language is an important way to gain a better command of grammar in general. Expanding your foreign language vocabulary helps you think about words and their meanings in complex ways. The new language deepens your ability to communicate and understand the challenges of all cross-cultural relationships. As countries become increasingly interconnected, the ability to engage in cross-cultural communication will become increasingly important.

Knowing another language can pave the way for advanced study in a wide range of fields and give you a chance to develop the kind of expertise that someone without those language skills wouldn’t be able to master. Interested in providing health care? Spanish can be very helpful when treating Spanish-speaking patients. Curious about African history? You’d better learn French to study the key sources. Intrigued by European politics? You could follow today’s news in the German press. Overall, studying a foreign language boosts your intellectual profile and will make you more competitive in whatever career you pursue.

What language should you study? All that you want. Some students rely on the language they started in high school: you’re one step ahead. Other students start a new language in middle school, perhaps a language that wasn’t even offered in their high school. The three most studied languages ​​in the United States are Spanish, French and German. The fourth is American Sign Language. Enrollment in other languages, such as Chinese (Mandarin) and Arabic, is growing rapidly, reflecting changing economic and political interests. Students who are native speakers – who know a language from their home environment – may choose to take courses in that language to turn their informal knowledge of the language into a skill they can use in a professional context. . Do your parents speak another language because they immigrated from another country? You may want to learn this language to explore your family history.

Given the benefits of studying languages, it’s no surprise that language courses are in high demand. The Modern Language Association tracks college course enrollment in a triennial survey and found that enrollment in the top ten languages ​​studied increased. Since language learning takes place best in small environments, language courses generally have a good student-teacher ratio and allow for active learning for all participants. Learning a language with other students can create a community of friends with common goals. In colleges and universities, language classes often provide a haven for intense personal learning, a welcome alternative to large, anonymous lectures. Studying a language is a smart choice.

the MLA Interactive Linguistic Map offers an overview of the many languages ​​spoken in the United States

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Russell Berman.


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