Gates: Don’t forget the value of foreign language


Matt Gates, Columnist

Although 93 percent of U.S. high schools offer a foreign language and NU admissions includes foreign languages among topics in which students should have a “solid background,” once students arrive at NU, many stop taking foreign language classes and may lose much of what they have learned.

Personally, I have found it difficult to fit into my schedule classes in the language I studied in high school, but I want to avoid losing what I learned before college. I have known many other students who complain their foreign language abilities have waned since high school, as they felt compelled to shift their focus to majors, minors, extracurricular activities, internships and jobs. While there are many endeavors to take on in college, continuing or starting to study a foreign language is worth keeping in the mix.

Learning a second language provides numerous overarching benefits to all areas of life. There are roughly 6,700 spoken languages in the world today, so even knowing just one more allows a person to communicate directly with more of the global population and connect better to other cultures. Learning a foreign language is likely to improve a person’s experience, allowing him or her to study or travel abroad. Secondary language acquisition is thought to result in many cognitive benefits, including improved memory and problem solving skills. It might even improve students’ understanding of English by making them focus on the mechanics of language.

Foreign language skills also have professional advantages to consider. NU’s culture often includes a pressure to double major or add minors and certificates. This may drive students away from studying abroad or taking a few foreign language courses that do not count towards a concentration. However, in an increasingly globalized economy, it is worth remembering that knowledge of another language can be useful in attaining employment, including in business. This is particularly relevant to the NU student body, much of which plans to seek employment in the business world.

Although many courses provide knowledge that is useful in multiple fields, a foreign language is one example of a skill that transfers across many careers. While some college students know what career they are going to pursue after graduation, many do not or will change their minds. Even medical schools seek doctors that have coursework in languages like Spanish on top of the required barrage of physical sciences and math.

Obviously not all students can fit a foreign language into their college schedule. That being said, even as life gets busier in college, foreign language skills gained in high school are worth trying to maintain.

Matt Gates is a Weinberg sophomore. He can be reached at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].