WHY YOU SHOULD TAKE A LANGUAGE COURSE AND STUDY ABROAD
Most North Americans (at least those who have never taken a language course) take for granted their ability to travel pretty much anywhere in the world and not have to speak anything other than English to get by.
A LANGUAGE COURSE SHOULD BE A PREREQUISITE IN A GLOBAL SOCIETY
Thanks to the British Empire, and the dominance of North American media, culture, currency, and its economy, a very large percentage of middle class people around the world speak English. It is a luxury that most people who are not native English speakers do not enjoy. You can’t be Brazilian, or Iranian on vacation in Thailand and just assume the reception staff at your hotel are going to speak Portuguese or Farsi. You can, however, safely assume they are going to be able to speak at least enough English to tell you what time the continental breakfast is at.
Most colleges and universities have a wide range of language faculties teaching history, reading, writing, literature, film etc. In addition to offering language courses on campus, many of these faculties also offer exchange opportunities (as do a large number of faculties on most modern university campuses). If you are just beginning your postsecondary career, and even if you are already well into it, below are some of the reasons you should consider taking up a language while at school, and exploring the world through one of your school’s many international study abroad opportunities.
IT IMPROVES ALL AROUND COGNITIVE FUNCTIONING
Studies show that students who study and learn foreign languages tend to perform better on standardized tests measuring mathematical, reading, and vocabulary capabilities. A study done by Pennsylvania State University also shows that people who are multilingual are more adept at switching between different systems of speech, structure, and writing. Being able to multitask is an important part of both personal and professional success, and how well you do in math, reading, and vocabulary tests are, while not the only, certainly good indicators of your overall cognitive capabilities.
Many people choose to take easy, or what they perceive to be ‘low effort’ elective courses at school because they want something that is not going to be intellectually demanding, nor require a substantial amount of time. But a language course can be both fun, as well as intellectually rewarding. Understanding how different linguistic and syntax systems work can end up improving your overall brain functioning, not to mention, will provide you with firsthand knowledge of different cultures, and different ways of being, and seeing the world.
EXCHANGES ARE LIFE-ALTERING
You don’t have to study a language in order to go on exchange – though many exchanges to countries where the first language is not English require some kind of language proficiency before going. Regardless of whether or not you go on exchange to a country where you already speak the language, the potential for a positive life-changing experience is very high. But if you go and study abroad for a semester, or two, in a country where the native language and culture is not your own, you will be forced to live as an outsider and adapt. This experience is one that will profoundly change your perspective on the world, on yourself, and on other people.
You will also get a chance to meet people from all over the world who are in a similar boat as yourself, all trying to adapt, learn, and thrive in a new culture. You will expand your knowledge of cuisine, of culture and customs, of worldviews, history, and geopolitics, and will likely come back a more cosmopolitan, and more empathetic person.
In addition to the aforementioned opportunities, taking a language course (and learning more about it while going on international exchange) is also a great way to make your resume stand out. In a global economy, where teams of employees, partnerships, and clients are spread out around the world, and comprised of a wide variety of cultures and languages, cross-cultural communication and management capabilities are highly valued. A 2015 article in the Guardian entitled “Now You’re Talking: How Language Skills can Boost Your Career,” interviews PriceWaterhouseCoopers Russian Desk chief, Alex Bertolotti, who contends that having language skills if you work for a big international firm gives you opportunities for interesting work for which you might otherwise not be a candidate for.
In some industries, having language skills immediately bumps your resume to the top of the pile. In Canada, for instance, if you are applying for a government job, being able to speak both English and French (both official languages) almost instantly makes you a more attractive candidate than someone who only speaks one of the two. If you are trying to get a job at a Canadian bank, especially in retail banking, being able to speak Mandarin is an enormous plus. In the United States, speaking Spanish, especially in states such as California and Texas, often adds similar value to a resume.