If you’ve ever been interested in learning a foreign language, college is one of the best places to do it. Colorado State University offers a wide variety of language courses that range from Chinese, Japanese, Italian, and Russian to Arabic, Korean, and American Sign Language. If the idea of learning a language, travel, and cultural exploration really intrigues you, you can major Languages, Literatures, and Cultures, and choose a specific concentration in French, German, or Spanish, or a variety of other language minors to broaden your scope.
Taking foreign language courses in college can have benefits that go far beyond satisfying degree requirements — benefits that stretch deep into your future career, life, and personal worldview. Here are some tips from a CSU language student on why studying a language in college can benefit you far beyond the classroom.
#1. Enhancing your English skills
Can learning a foreign language make your English better? Not possible, right? Actually, learning the grammatical structures in another language can make the same concepts easier in your first language. Awareness is everything. For example, last year when I started learning Russian, I forgot the importance of intonation — which means emphasizing a certain word in a sentence — and how it could completely change a conversation. Now, when I speak in English, I am more aware of when my voice naturally emphasizes words, such as when I am posing a question.
#2. Increasing your cultural awareness
Studying a second or third language traditionally teaches oral and written communication skills as well as reading comprehension. These are all essential to lingual studies, but these three skills are not the limit of what you can learn. Language classes provide cultural education, awareness of social practices within those cultures, geography of specific regions, religion, and history.
In my own experience, learning more than just the grammar of my second language made for a more interesting class. When I learned about surrealism in my Spanish literature class, I got to explore my personal expression of surrealism through painting instead of taking notes. This exercise really showed me through interactive, hands-on learning how the surrealist movement reflected the changing of mentalities during the time period.
#3. Understanding perspective
Perspective is everything. Where you were born, how you were raised, the educational background of your parents, and your economic status (just to name a few) can influence what you might consider “normal.” One of the most-important skills that learning a foreign language can teach is awareness of this — your “normal” could be vastly different from the person next to you.
Knowing that your experiences and perspective may differ greatly from someone else’s can not only shape the way you approach people, but also allow for deeper understanding, compassion, and learning when discussing controversial topics. In the upper-division languages classes I’ve taken, there were a lot of native speakers of the language taking the class, too. Meeting students who are native speakers of the languages I’m learning has given me insight into their experiences I couldn’t have gotten on my own. As a United States citizen, I could not imagine what it’s like to deal with biases regarding one’s immigration status. Hearing my foreign classmates’ experiences directly gave me an awareness of something I’d never had to face (and never will) myself. More specifically, it enhanced my understanding around those issues, and helped me be more aware of why and how opinions can be formed.
#4. Broadening your worldview
Language can be one of the largest barriers between groups of people. If you’ve grown up in the United States and never encountered groups of people who don’t speak English, you might naturally assume that every person in the United States speaks English. Why would you need learn another language? If you haven’t experienced a communication barrier as you move through the world, it may not have occurred to you to explore another language.
Even at CSU, I have encountered situations that I was able to navigate solely due to my competency in a foreign language. In my residence hall last year, I was able to interact with many of the native-Spanish-speaking staff. Because we didn’t have a language barrier, we could skip the frustrations of trying to communicate and just enjoy talking to each other. For me, nothing is more rewarding than being able to get to know people who I might not have been able to know without a second language.
#5. Gaining future career opportunities
Knowing a foreign language can enhance your resume, give you a cutting edge when it comes to job opportunities, and set you apart in competitive applicant pools. Having lingual capabilities applies to almost any job, from government to customer service to healthcare to the entertainment industry. Employers know that having someone with multi-lingual skills means that person can interact with a wider range of clients. Plus, if you’re hoping to travel abroad in your future career, knowing another language might even be a requirement more than a bonus.
Author: Peyton Dailey
Peyton is a current CSU sophomore with a double major in Political Science and Languages, Literatures, and Cultures (French concentration) with Russian and Spanish minors. She is also an honors student who works as a writing intern for the College of Liberal Arts Dean’s Office and as a political science research assistant. Peyton is the Russian Club’s financial officer and a member of Gamma Phi Beta. Outside the classroom, she enjoys running and hiking around Fort Collins.