By Jayne Seward
As colleges and universities face budget shortfalls, foreign languages – sometimes with low enrollments – find themselves on the budgetary chopping block. But language experts say there are many benefits to students in becoming fluent in a foreign language. Critics of foreign language majors focus on the practical skill set and dismiss the theoretical skills that are gained through language courses.
1. Unlimited Job Potential
There is no doubt that we live in a global society, and while much of the rest of the world attempts to speak English, Americans, for the most part, have not undertaken foreign language study en masse. Kathy Mahnke, director of the Center for World Languages and Cultures at the University of Denver says those who are able to communicate with someone in their native tongue shows mutual respect.
“Fluency in a foreign language involves a skill set that is now very important to many employers, especially those who require their employees to travel overseas,” said Mahnke. “Being able to communicate in a colleague’s native tongue helps business negotiations as well as social interactions with that colleague go much more smoothly than does working through a translator. There are just some cultural aspects of communication that do not translate well.”
2. Learn More About Your Own Language
Christopher McDonough is the chairperson of the department of classical languages at Sewanee: The University of the South in Sewanee, TN. McDonough teaches Latin and ancient Greek courses at Sewanee. He says that teaching repetition of Latin and Greek grammar and syntax actually helps students with English.
“The study of Latin and Greek formalities helps students fill in the gaps in their knowledge of English grammar and syntax,” said McDonough. “I often say on the first day of class, Welcome to the most useful class you will take in college. In here, you are going to learn why “between you and I” is wrong in English, when to use “who” and when to use “whom,” and you will be able to explain what issue is involved in splitting an infinitive. And, you will also be in a position to read Homer and Virgil in their native tongues.”
3. Jump Start Learning Another Foreign Language
McDonough says once one knows the derivation of a word the easier it is for one to use it. “An aspect of language-learning, of course, is etymological,” said McDonogh. “My students and I have a lot of fun considering the ways in which Latin or Greek words come into English (or French or Spanish, etc.). The better you know an English word’s derivation, I tell them, the better able you can deploy it.”
Did you learn a new language in college? How has it paid off for you? Share your story with us in the comments.
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