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Broaden horizons by learning new languages

By Tasneem Islam
On February 6, 2012

Brandeis offers 12 different foreign language classes overall, but how many of these are really worth taking if you can't practice them in regular conversations with your peers?

The discussion over the purpose of learning foreign languages began in the late 1990s and early 2000s when many colleges and universities created a foreign language requirement for their schools. Since American businesses have broadened to many overseas markets, our global economy has permeated many cultures. However, amid all the cultural exchanges, the language barrier has become a hindrance. No matter how much we want to believe that English is the universal language because it is most commonly spoken in our melting pot of a nation, there are many other languages that are popular around the world.

According to a recent article in The New York Times titled "The World Has Changed," Chinese, Arabic, Spanish and Portuguese are a few of many other prominent languages that are commonplace in the global market. Even though English is currently the dominant language in the world, these other languages are growing at an exponential rate and could dethrone English as the universal language in the future. Chinese could be this dethroner as, according to the article, the content of the Internet in Chinese is expanding incredibly quickly.

Becoming proficient in one or more of these languages can be only beneficial for your future. Transcontinental companies want to hire employees who can adapt to different situations and help broaden their business by speaking mulitple languages. An article in The Washington Post last February reported that between 2000 and 2009, 2.4 million American jobs had been outsourced to overseas countries. If this trend continues in the future, multilingual individuals will automatically be favored over English-only speaking individuals.

Moreover, reaching out to a new company in a different country and being able to converse with business clients and associates in their language creates a friendly atmosphere. It adds a personal touch and flow to your conversation that you can't get by using an electronic translator or hiring an interpreter. It makes business more comfortable for them. Being bilingual or even multilingual isn't beneficial for just businessmen. It can help in a plethora of other professions as well. As a physician, you can create a more personal bond with your patient by speaking to them in his native tongue. He will be more comfortable talking to you about their specific health problems. As in business, it adds that extra "personal touch" that you can't get with a translator. Moreover, you would get assigned more cases because of your multilingual background. Other physicians would come to you for help when they had non-English speaking patients and they could respect you more for your assistance. As a teacher, you can help non-English speaking students comprehend difficult lessons. Being a teacher with a multilingual background enhances your resume because your ability to help students extends further than that of any of the other monolingual educators.

What about languages that are used far less, such as Latin or Russian? Is there really a point? I would answer that with an exclamatory "yes!" Learning new languages stimulates new parts of your brain, and research shows that it aids in cognitive development. Bilinguals have the ability to process both languages at the same time. As a result, they are able to multitask better than monolinguals because their brains can organize and process information better and faster. Multitasking is a life skill that can help you in innumerable ways in your education, work and life.

Learning another language also creates a cultural experience that one can't get by just reading about it. Being able to fully throw yourself into another culture involves understanding their customs and idioms. It's important to be cultured so you can be open-minded and understand why certain cultures behave the way they do, such as why the Aztecs praised the sun as a god or why monks live humbly. In this way, you can fully explore and appreciate everything about that culture. Not to mention the vast arrays of literature that would then be opened and available to your access.

Becoming a polyglot requires practice and patience to maintain. It may seem like learning a language like Arabic won't be useful in daily American life. However, if you consider how impressive it would look on your résumé, how healthy it is for your brain and how it can open your eyes to a new world of literature and a culture that you previously could never traverse or understand, it seems like an exciting challenge to take on.

So why not take that "Intro to German" class or that "Advanced Yiddish" class? All competitive job markets look for that special "something" that will set you apart from the crowd. If it's proficiency in Greek or Mandarin that will differentiate you, it is a college investment worth making.

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