There's no denying that a global perspective colors our daily lives. This reality makes clear communication more important than ever. If you'd like to enhance these abilities, you could benefit from studying a foreign language in college.
Foreign language programs are highly misunderstood, even as they become more valued in the modern workforce. To clear up common misconceptions, we've answered several foreign language questions below:
1. Why study a foreign language?
Reasons to study a foreign language abound. These typically fall into one of two main categories: personal and professional.
From a personal standpoint, foreign languages increase your cognitive capacity, as well as your cultural awareness and general empathy.
Professionally, language mastery gives you an edge in a competitive job market. In today's global economy, employers are more eager than ever to work with fluent speakers.
In the answers to the foreign language questions covered below, you'll find further insight into the value of studying a foreign language in college.
2. Should you major or minor in a foreign language?
Both foreign language majors and minors can be valuable. A lot depends on the extent to which you hope to master the language in question — and what you hope to accomplish if you reach a certain level of fluency.
It should come as no surprise that a foreign language major will get you to a far higher level of reading, writing, and speaking, but that doesn't mean this approach is right for everyone.
If you have clear career aspirations in a specific field, it may be worth majoring in that area and minoring in your selected language. However, if you hope to work as a translator or language editor, a foreign language major should get you closer to your goal.
3. How do you choose which foreign language to study?
If you've previously studied a particular language in high school, the choice to move on with that language will probably be easy. Conversely, majoring in a language can be incredibly challenging when you have limited exposure — but it's by no means impossible.
Factors to consider when selecting your preferred foreign language include the following:
- The most challenging components of learning the language in question. No language is automatically easiest to learn, but the challenges involved in this process can differ dramatically from one language to the next. For some, grammar is relatively straightforward while pronunciation or vocabulary are difficult. With others, you may already have a basic familiarity with some words — but you could find it tough to grasp even basic sentence structure. Determine early on which challenges you're best able to take on and which you'd rather avoid.
- Specific job opportunities in regions of interest. Many people learn German because it's such a valuable asset in the business world. Spanish, meanwhile, is heavily used in many regions of the United States and therefore a great option for aspiring language educators or interpreters. If you already have an idea of the capacity in which you'd like to work following graduation, you can select your preferred language accordingly.
- Travel plans. While professional aspirations are often at the heart of college-level foreign language selection, there's nothing wrong with dreaming about future adventures abroad. Yes, people in many parts of the world speak English, but travel is still far more enjoyable when you have at least a rudimentary understanding of the local dialect. Now, imagine how enjoyable it will be to explore France or other destinations when you've achieved an intermediate or advanced level of understanding — and as a result, you feel confident enough to hold in-depth conversations with locals.
4. What jobs are available to foreign language graduates?
As we've touched on above, your decision to major or minor in a particular language will largely depend on what you hope to accomplish professionally. Many jobs are directly related to the languages students master during their college programs — although, in some, language skills may take a backseat to other abilities.
That being said, the communication and critical thinking abilities that foreign language programs promote can be beneficial to professionals with a wide array of goals.
The following are a few of the most compelling job opportunities for foreign language graduates:
- Foreign language educator
- Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) educator
- Tour guide
- Travel agent
- Bilingual content creator
- Director of culture
5. Why is studying abroad valuable for foreign language students?
While it's possible to dramatically improve foreign language comprehension through concentrated study, nothing compares to spending several months abroad. By enrolling in a study abroad program, you gain exposure far above and beyond anything that would be possible through university study alone.
Studying abroad also provides exciting opportunities for building your personal and professional networks. In addition to making close friendships with fellow study abroad students (both from your university and other institutions), you'll meet locals who may continue to keep in touch long after you've returned home.
6. How can I maintain my language abilities after graduating?
The foreign language skills acquired during college are by no means permanent. As with many skills, foreign language requires extensive practice to maintain a base level of competency. Depending on your career and hobbies, you may find it easy or surprisingly difficult to get the exposure you need.
One of the most underrated aspects of foreign language study is the extensive social network it allows you to build. You can develop strong friendships with like-minded students who are similarly passionate about your language of choice.
If you maintain these relationships after graduation, you can continue to practice your language skills together. Whether you meet in person, chat on the phone, or schedule regular Zoom chats, you'll be amazed by how helpful even short conversations can be.
Your language acumen is also easier to maintain if you make a point of traveling on a regular basis. You've gained the ability to speak fluently with locals, so why not take advantage of it? A few short weeks of immersion can prove incredibly valuable.
7. What are the best study strategies for foreign language classes?
Foreign language mastery relies on a great deal of rote memorization, so it's important to master high-level study skills early on. The most effective methods will vary somewhat from one student to the next, but the following are especially common:
- Flashcards. This classic method remains a go-to solution for good reason: it works! Simple and visual, flashcards provide the repeated exposure that many students need. Read terms aloud to get much-needed practice with pronunciation. The act of writing your own flashcards can be helpful in and of itself, although many students prefer the enhanced accessibility of digital versions.
- Writing. Language fluency involves far more than memorizing a long list of terms. Effective writing is crucial —as with English communication, it can only be achieved through practice. Simple journaling may be one of the best tools for boosting this ability, just as it may have been when you were learning to write as an elementary school student. Resist the urge to self-edit, and instead, let the words flow. Return to this resource periodically to observe your rapid improvements.
- Study groups. From fun to accountability, study partners and groups provide a variety of advantages. You and your study buddies can work together not only on vocabulary memorization or grammatical exercises, but also on conversing in as natural and enjoyable a manner as possible.
8. What are the best immersive language opportunities available for those who are unable to study abroad?
Unfortunately, study abroad isn't realistic for everyone. There are many programs available to expand its accessibility, but scheduling or financial constraints may keep some students in the US for the entirety of their college career.
While it's difficult to fully capture the benefits of studying abroad, a few alternatives give you a taste of immersive living. Vacations are one of the best substitutes; instead of spending spring break on the beach, spend a week or two immersing yourself in the culture of a foreign country.
If you know where to look, you may also find immersive opportunities near home. This is an especially viable option for anyone speaking Spanish, which is a common first and second language in many parts of the US.
Another fun option? Attending foreign language camps, which provide anywhere from a short weekend to multiple weeks of immersion. Some foreign language students even work as camp counselors. This rewarding job can be a valuable addition to your professional resume.
Volunteer programs or job experiences can also prove beneficial. These are available not only to current students, but also for many who have recently graduated. For example, it's common for graduates to seek English teaching positions in other countries where they can then expand on their speaking skills through everyday exposure to their second language.
When in doubt, ask instructors or fellow foreign language students for leads. You'll be amazed by how many exciting opportunities exist.
Discover the Joy of Learning a Foreign Language at University of the Cumberlands
Equipped with detailed answers to your most pressing questions, learning a foreign language can feel like a more attainable pursuit. This is a great way to spend your college career, particularly if you aspire to expand your cultural horizons. Don't overlook this opportunity to develop a valuable skill that will serve you well in your personal and professional life.
If you are interested in learning more about studying a foreign language, reach out to the University of the Cumberlands, contact an admissions counselor or request more information today.