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Why You Should Study a Foreign Language as your Second Major

Updated on February 12, 2013

1. More Opportunities After Graduation

It is no secret that the value of a standard Bachelor degree is diminishing in North America. More and more college graduates are finding themselves driving taxis and working in call centers. The simple fact of the matter is that there are fewer employment opportunities requiring a university degree than there are college graduates in North America. However, learning a foreign language will give you a major competitive edge in a tough job market. North America is notorious for its lack of multilingualism (when, for example, compared to Western Europe). As a result, proficiency in one or more foreign languages (or official languages other than English) will give your resume a significant advantage over others. Employers routinely consider foreign language knowledge a major scale tipper, all else being more or less equal.

Spanish and French of course come to mind when we consider important languages other than English in North America, but you can vastly increase your competitive edge when you choose a more difficult but equally important language for North American business, economics, journalism, communications, commerce, and diplomacy. Some I would highly recommend are Russian, German, Arabic, Mandarin, and Japanese.

It is often the case that students who wish to continue on to the graduate and postgraduate levels are routinely expected to have a degree of proficiency in several languages other than English. Double majoring in a foreign language (especially in one you did not already study in high school) is excellent preparation for continuing on with your academic career.

2. Improve Your English

The exercise of learning a new set of grammar structures and vocabulary always has the consequence of vastly improving your understanding of those in your native language. Most of us know better than to confuse "our" with "are" and "there" with "their", but such errors and more subtle examples thereof are greatly reduced with the deep linguistic and grammatical understanding that comes with learning a new language.

Not only will your writing improve grammatically and syntactically, but your conversational ability will also enjoy massive improvement. You will find you have become a more coherent and wittier conversationalist and can lead class discussions and hold presentations with advanced style and grace. Think of speaking a foreign language like jogging with wrist and ankle weights. The more you practice weighed down by a new difficulty, the more skilled and developed you become with what is natural and familiar to you.

3. More Academically Managable

For those who study in the Arts and Humanities, foreign language classes are typically less demanding as far as major projects and general workload are concerned. I always found studying German vocabulary and grammar much less draining than writing essays and reading over dry textbooks. Class time for foreign language study is typically a lot more engaging than the typical university lecture or seminar. Very often foreign language professors will include group exercises to put the grammar to practical use and present film and music to vary exposure to the language.

4. Multitasking

If there is one skill essential for most university students, it’s multitasking. When the pressure is on, many find themselves writing and preparing for several assignments and exams at once, not to mention the multiple obligations of their personal lives. It has been proven that learning a second language greatly stimulates the part of the brain responsible for multitasking ability. The exercise of having to consider and correspondingly employ two different sets of vocabulary and grammar gives you a significant edge in your ability to deal with multiple tasks at once.

5. Opportunity to Study Abroad

Most foreign language departments have sister departments in one or more universities in the country(ies) of whichever language they teach. This is for the primary purpose of organizing an exchange program for their foreign language students. International experience looks very good on a resume and is also helpful for those seeking to study beyond the undergraduate level. You also have the opportunity through such a program to make very valuable international contacts.

I can say without hesitation that my experience studying abroad in Germany has so far been the greatest and most exciting experience of my life and I look forward to continuing to seek out further opportunities abroad.


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