Why Study a Language Other than English?

  • 60-75% of the world’s population speak more than one language - those who do not are in the global minority (BBC)
  • Being multilingual enhances the brain and improves social skills. (Medium) and staves of dementia and mental decline (source)
  • 5-20% Increased wages for those who speak two or more languages (source)
  • Promotes cultural understanding in an increasingly globalized world (source)
  • It’s not about grammar - “To have a second language is to have a second soul” (Attributed to Charlesmagne)

The psycholinguist, Frank Smith, famously wrote: “[o]ne language sets you in a corridor for life. Two languages open every door along the way.”  Learning a foreign language is essential for a better understanding of the world.  The benefits gained from the study of a foreign language are multiple and demonstrate a sensibility for global engagement in our increasingly interconnected world.  According to research on second language acquisition, knowledge of a foreign language and culture can contribute to enhanced cognitive brain function, advanced verbal and written communication skills, and an appreciation for diversity and multiculturalism.  Despite recent financial cuts to liberal arts programs and an emphasis on personal rate of return, employers in every sector are seeking personnel with degrees in the Humanities and Social Sciences for their interpersonal and critical thinking skills in order to enrich and complement their workforce.  Americans are progressively more engaged in industries and professions around the globe; international cooperation and mutual understanding are imperative in the twenty-first century labor force.  According to recent studies by the MLA and its organizational allies, the study of languages will better prepare individuals for a highly competitive, more demanding job market. 

An education in the liberal arts will never become obsolete; students learn a skill set that will stay with them their entire lives, as they become creative and passionate thinkers and lifelong learners.  Moreover, students who study foreign languages build multilingual and transcultural competencies, which help them refine their knowledge and awareness of other languages and cultures.  Students who have an appreciation for other languages and cultures are often more well-rounded, open-minded and flexible. 

Professional schools and businesses are seeking individuals with foreign language proficiency and experience living and studying abroad.  The demand for bilingual/multi-lingual workers more than doubled between 2010-2015 according to a report in New American Economy (International Center for Language Studies).  Study of a second language is often an indicator of a student’s ability to think globally and demonstrates a commitment to understanding the diverse, multicultural, digital world we inhabit.  What’s more, students who study foreign languages learn more about the grammatical complexities of their native tongue, possess a richer and more diversified vocabulary, and often demonstrate more acute social awareness and cognitive strength (Van den Noort, et al.). 

There is also an economic factor to foreign language learning; the benefits of knowing another language and culture can have a profound impact on a person’s overall income earned over a lifetime.  Just last year, The American Academy of Arts and Sciences confirmed the broader impact of knowing another language, stating it contributes to economic growth, cultural diplomacy, and the well-being and security of the United States as an international superpower. 

Additionally, it emphasized the personal, social, political, commercial, and even biological benefits of language learning.  The ability to converse in a language other than your native tongue can contribute to your physiological makeup and, as studies have shown, can even help prevent the onset of diseases like dementia or Alzheimer’s (Anderson, et al.).  Studying a foreign language will strengthen one’s ability to communicate and make cross-cultural competency part of one’s professional and personal life. 

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