Every college student needs to take a foreign language class, even if it isn’t required for them to graduate. Some think it’s pointless, others may not want to ‘waste’ their tuition money on something they think they’ll never use. It is not an area that people always see as one of importance, especially compared to other general education requirements, like math and the sciences. However, not studying a language to gain basic competency puts people at a severe disadvantage that will have long term effects.
Without a foreign language requirement, schools are not preparing students for life as much as they could. As a Liberal Arts institution, WLU prides itself on graduating well-rounded students who are not only prepared to be productive in their fields but also ready to be part of a diverse, global community. While all general education classes are important, foreign language classes are a huge source of providing advantages to people who study them. Being a part of the global community is valuable and important. Isolationism isn’t what to strive for but joining the community and becoming educated on diversity is what matters.
Diversity is a very broad spectrum that not only includes a person’s physical characteristics, but also their culture, religion, and language. Some might say that taking a foreign language is unnecessary because it is very rare to run into someone from an entirely different cultural background in areas that aren’t bigger cities with a more obviously diverse population. Studying a language is not only about the language itself, but the culture surrounding it as well.
As of today, English speaking people who are also white, and not Hispanic, are the majority in the U.S., but it isn’t going to stay that way forever. According to an article by The New York Times, projections are showing Non-Hispanic whites as the minority by the year 2050, meaning the U.S., in particular, will have more languages being used throughout the country.
While many can currently find success only knowing one language, this will change in the future. Assistant Professor of Spanish Dr. Felipe Rojas said, “I can only speak for Spanish, but what is the harm in learning the language? I mean it is one of the top three most spoken languages in the world. In America, 13 percent of the population speaks Spanish, and it is estimated that by the year 2050, there will be nearly 138 million Spanish speakers.”
Like Spanish, English is also among the top three most spoken languages in the world. Rojas statement further proves that it isn’t always going to be the ‘default’ language for everyone here in the States. This means being educated on other languages becomes even more important.
A common misconception when learning a language is that you must be fluent to be successful. Being able to have basic knowledge in another language will give you a competitive edge over fellow jobseekers. Rojas stated, “Comprehension and fluency are different. Becoming fluent in a language is difficult if you are not surrounded by others who are constantly speaking it. But, if you can learn the basics and at least hold a conversation, that is what is valuable and that is what employers find attractive.”
According to the WLU College of Liberal Arts website, 75% of employers want colleges to “emphasize applied knowledge to the real world.” Knowing more than one language is going to allow students to be more educated about the world around them, therefore; employers will see they are applying what they know to real-world problems—making them ‘more attractive’. Someone who can bring more to an employers’ business by being knowledgeable of other languages and cultures is going to be more appealing versus those who only know their native tongue and customs.
People who only know one language are known as being monolingual, and those who know more than one is considered to be bilingual. Bilinguals are more prepared to be a part of a global community due to knowing more about other cultures and languages whereas monolinguals are not equipped with the same knowledge.
Associate Director of French, Spanish, and Linguistics Dr. Shannon Halicki states that “As a linguist, I think it is important to say the norm in the world is multilingualism. We are in a pretty odd bubble in North America where most people only know one language–English.”
Halicki also pointed out some problems that future generations are going to face for not knowing more than one language. “A couple of generations from now the effects of that “protracted monolingualism” is going to produce a real deficit effect in terms of our competitiveness in global markets,” Halicki stated.
Pushing aside the option of a foreign language as a possibility in terms of general education is not the best option when looking at the big picture. Taking a foreign language is beneficial in the fact that it gives that competitive edge when looking for a job and takes away the ignorant way of thinking that English is the default language for all.
Looking into the future, it looks like more and more people are going to be speaking multiple languages. Therefore, only knowing one is going to negatively affect a person’s standing in social circles and job markets. Let’s break the norm of being in an ‘odd bubble’ and become a part of the global community where most know another language other than their own.
Photo Credit: Annalise Murphy