Why Learn Languages?

Posted on September 2, 2015 by

Everyone speaks English, right?  Wrong!  According to the CIA World Fact Book, only 4.67 % of the world's total population speaks English as a primary language.[1] That number doubles when people who speak English as a second or third language are counted. By conservative estimates, that means that well over four-fifths of the world's population does not speak English. 

You can get along at international hotels, airports and tourist destinations by speaking English, but step outside these areas and you will encounter many people who do not speak English.

There are many reasons to learn a language other than English.

“If I am selling to you, I speak your language. If I am buying, dann müssen Sie Deutsch sprechen [then you have to speak German].” -  Willy Brandt, German politician

Studying a language will improve your employment prospects. If businesses are to effectively compete in a global economy, they must learn to interact with other cultures on their own terms. Companies that plan to do business abroad therefore have a dire need for bilingual or multilingual employees. Businesses that intend to compete internationally need employees who can competently communicate in the locales where they do business. Business is not the only area of employment where language competencies are needed, however. Multiple government agencies, the travel industry, engineering, communications, the field of education, international law, economics, public policy, publishing, advertising, entertainment, scientific research, and a broad array of service sectors all have needs for people with foreign language skills.

"No culture can live, if it attempts to be exclusive." - Mohandas K. Gandhi, Indian nationalist and spiritual leader

Studying another language gives you the skills needed to interact with members of another language group. Imagine a situation in which you are interacting with two or more speakers of another language, be it in a social setting, a business meeting, or some other pro­fessional context. While the shared conversation might well take place in English, the speakers of the other language are able to converse in their own language, immediately excluding the monolingual American, who is isolated in an English-only world. It is hard to see why that is not a disadvantage.

“A different language is a different vision of life.” – Federico Fellini, Italian film director.

The study of another language increases your understanding of cul­tural difference and global diversity, and this awareness is transferable across cultural regions. Learning another language gives the learner the ability to step inside the mind and context of that other culture.  The student of language becomes more toler­ant and flexible when encountering alternative cultural formations and practices. There­fore, anyone who has studied languages during his or her education can display a greater capacity to work in diverse environments, whether in the United States or abroad, than a person who hasn’t studied languages.  Without the ability to communicate and understand a culture on its own terms, true access to that culture is barred. Why is this important? In a world where nations and peoples are ever more dependent upon one another to supply goods and services, solve political disputes, and ensure international security, understanding other cultures is crucial.

"Those who know nothing of foreign languages, know nothing of their own." - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe 

Studying another language increases native language ability, and sharpens cognitive and life skills.  Research shows that knowledge of other languages boosts students' understanding of languages in general and enables students to use their native language more effectively. Foreign language learners have stronger vocabulary skills in English, a better understanding of the language, and improved literacy in general. Many students find that studying a second language gives them a new perspective on English, and a better  ability to understand English grammar and the distinctive meaning of English terms.

Because learning a language involves a variety of learning skills, studying a foreign language can enhance one's ability to learn and function in several other areas. People who have learned foreign languages show greater cognitive development in areas such as mental flexibility, creativity, and higher order thinking skills, such as problem-solving, conceptualizing, and reasoning.

Which language should I study?

At USA, we offer major concentrations and minors in French, German, Russian and Spanish.  We also offer Ancient Greek and Latin, and a related minor in Classical Studies. Through the Lesser Taught Languages Program, students can study the following through the intermediate level:  American Sign Language, Arabic, Chinese, Modern Greek, Hindi, Italian, Japanese, Korean, and Portuguese.

French: French is spoken by more than 200 million people worldwide, for instance in some parts of Switzerland and many African countries. Furthermore, research has shown that French speakers earn about $77,000 extra throughout their careers than people who do not speak a foreign language.  It is the international language of cooking, fashion, theatre, the visual arts, dance and architecture, and offers access to great works of literature, film and music.  French is also important for careers in international relations, and is the third most used language on the Internet.

German: German is the most widely spoken language in Europe.  It has the third strongest economy, and is the number one export nation in the world.  If you are able to speak German, you could earn $128,000 extra throughout your career. If you're looking for employment in the United States, knowing German can give you great advantages. German companies account for 700,000 jobs in the United States, and US companies have created approximately the same number of jobs in Germany. German is important for technical and scientific fields, and also offers a rich cultural heritage in literature, music, and the visual and performing arts.

Russian: The US Government needs more Russian-language specialists, and federal agencies have identified Russian as a priority language of national need, which means employment opportunities for speakers of Russian.  Russia is a regional power and is returning as a world power, making it important for international relations and the global economy. Russian is an important language for science and technology, and offers a rich tradition in the arts, including ballet, theater, cinema, literature, music, and visual arts.

Spanish: Spanish is spoken by at least an estimated 350 million people around the world and is currently the 4th most commonly spoken language worldwide. It is also an important language within the US: at least 10% of all people living in the US are of Hispanic descent, and this number continues to increase. There are a multitude of career fields in the US that need Spanish speakers, including nurses, social workers, teachers, salespeople, translators, and many more. Hispanic cultures are very diverse, and have been influential in the US and around the world.

Ancient Greek and Latin:  The study of the classical languages will improve your understanding of English and your ability to learn related languages such as French, Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese.  A background in classics will help you master the terminology and concepts for a variety of fields, including theology, philosophy, law, political science, medicine, religious studies, archaeology, anthropology, literary studies and history. The classics are the key to understanding western civilization, and  important moments, ideas, personalities, and movements in cultural history that continue to be relevant today.

Lesser Taught Languages:  American Sign Language, Arabic, Chinese, Modern Greek, Hindi, Italian, Japanese, Korean, and Portuguese.  These languages are taught by native speakers of the language (tutors).  Students choosing to study these languages must be self-directed and prepared to work independently.  Emphasis is on oral communication, and grades are typically based on just a midterm and a final, which are administered by outside examiners.

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