Vistawide - World languages & cultures, foreign language learning tips, study & work abroad, free language study resources.

Find us on Facebook


Choose the right pass

The World Awaits:
How to Travel
Far and Well
by Paul Otteson

Why learn languages?

10 good reasons why you should be learning a foreign language (#5-7)

<<< Previous | Why learn languages? | Next>>>

5. To improve chances of entry into college or graduate school

Today, most colleges and universities require a minimum of two years of high school foreign language instruction for admission. And once enrolled in an undergraduate program, students are likely to find that their college or university prescribes foreign language courses as requirement for the degree. The majority of universities rightly consider knowledge of a foreign language and culture part of what every educated person should know. Many majors in the arts and humanities, in natural sciences and behavioral and social sciences, and in professional fields, also require the study of one or more languages to ensure success in the given field.

For those planning to continue on to graduate study in most any field, knowledge of a second and sometimes even a third language is often a prerequisite for admission. From mathematics to anthropology, from biology to art history, you will find that many if not most graduate programs require some kind of foreign language knowledge of their applicants. In some programs, graduate students are required to gain a reading knowledge of other languages as a degree requirement, especially in doctoral programs. This is because important research is often published in non-English language books and professional journals.

Even when an undergraduate or graduate institution doesn't require foreign language study, it's often recommended by programs. Knowing a language can't hurt your application, and is highly likely to make you a more competitive candidate in the admissions process.

These books are excellent examples of instructional approaches intended to prepare candidates to meet graduate school requirements:

German for Reading Knowledge, by Hubert Jannach, Richard Alan Korb, 336 p. (2004). This is THE book for teaching academic reading skills in German to students in the humanities, arts, and social sciences in particular. It can be used independently or as a course textbook to provide future researchers with the German abilities necessary to independently read and understand specialized literature in their fields.

French for Reading, by Karl C. Sandberg, Eddison C. Tatham, 526p. (1997). The book's preface underscores the need for graduate students to be versed in other languages: "A few years ago in one of the major universities in the United States a graduate student of botany was preparing to defend his doctoral dissertation.... [H]e was not sure of the meaning of a certain article in French in the general area of his dissertation. When he ad someone from the French Department translate it for him, he found that all of his research had been only the duplication of experiments performed by a French botanist two years before." The book teaches the learner the basic elements of French and gives opportunities to practice and test comprehension of the material. It's goal is to teach learners to read a text in French and to be able to understand it easily and accurately.

6. To appreciate international literature, music, and film

"The many great gardens of the world, of literature and poetry, of painting and music, of religion and architecture, all make the point as clear as possible: The soul cannot thrive in the absence of a garden. If you don't want paradise, you are not human; and if you are not human, you don't have a soul." - Thomas Moore, Irish poet, satirist, and composer

Most of the world's literary and artistic works have been written in languages other than English. A translation of a text can never be fully true to the intent, beauty, style, and uniqueness of its original. A translation is always to a large degree subject to the interpretation of the translator, not least because some elements of languages simply don't have translations in other languages. Word plays, metaphors, innuendoes, cultural references and culturally loaded vocabulary words, and formulations unique to the original language often get lost in translation. To be able to fully appreciate literature, theater, music, and film in other languages, one must be able to access them in their original form.

7. To make travel more feasible and enjoyable

"Here speeching American." - A sign in a Mallorcan shop entrance

"Cold shredded children and sea blubber in spicy sauce." - From a menu in China

"Refund!" - On a "Caution! Wet floor!" sign in a McDonald's restaurant in Italy

Though it's possible to travel to foreign countries without speaking the native language, your experience will be largely shaped by your ability or inability to see beyond the surface of the culture. When you lack the ability to communicate in the native language, you can not fully participate in day-to-day life, understand the culture, or communicate with the people. The language barrier can be anywhere from frustrating to downright dangerous. When you know the language, you have the comfort of being able to successfully navigate all sorts of situations, like order meals in restaurants, ask for and understand directions, find accommodations and perhaps negotiate cheaper prices, and meet and talk with natives, to name only a few. In most countries, people will appreciate attempts to use their language. You will be able to communicate more completely and have a deeper, more satisfying travel experience.

It's true that in tourist areas English may be spoken. However, even if the natives know some English, many are uncomfortable speaking it, particularly beyond their limited interactions with tourists. In addition, these well-beaten paths are not places where you will get to know the country you're visiting -- they cater to tourists and provide a watered-down and often stereotypical and commercialized version of the culture both to meet and profit from tourists' expectations. If you intend to stray from the tourist centers and explore the real country and really get to know it, you must know the language. Your language ability will allow you to see and do things that many visitors cannot.

<<< Previous | Why learn languages? | Next>>>

Vistawide - All About Learning Languages & Knowing Cultures
All content on this site is copyrighted. © 2004- VISTAWIDE.COM
Contact - About us