The Value of Learning a Foreign Language

Higher education has more to offer than just classes to prepare people for careers; universities also offer classes that prepare you for life itself and make you a more well-rounded individual overall. Learning a foreign language is the most practical way to gain real-world knowledge in the classroom.

There are the obvious uses of learning a foreign language; for instance, if you plan on traveling or doing business in a foreign country, knowing the native language will make life significantly easier. However, knowing a foreign language serves a much greater purpose  on a personal level. The fundamental act of learning a non-native language forces you to re-evaluate the world and perceive it through the eyes of someone else. Quirks of other languages, such as gendered pronouns or words that don’t have a direct equivalent in English, serve as windows into another world: in order to learn another language, you have to learn another culture, and in doing so you’ll expand your worldview.

Becoming fluent in a foreign language can be a long and difficult process, but in the end it’s about more than just how to make sentences or read different kinds of characters. You will come out with a better understanding of the English language. The ability to speak and communicate with others in our native language is often something that develops relatively naturally over time, and is thus very easily taken for granted. Foreign languages force you to look at the idea of language differently, and allow you to become more intentional with word choice in daily dialogue.

In this sense, the value of learning another language cannot be properly quantified. It is not as simple as the idea that “this class will help me complete this degree to get this job.” While there are more job possibilities when you know a foreign language, the overall value goes beyond what you’re adding to your resume. Learning another language should be a natural part of higher education, because it makes people more intelligent and well-rounded such that they can live better lives, which is, after all, one of the most important reasons to get an education in the first place.
This is more in line with the idea of a liberal arts education, which, as David Foster Wallace put it, gives you “the choice of what to think about.” This way of thinking sums up both the practical and personal value of that kind of education, and if that sounds at all appealing than learning a foreign language is a great first step towards that. MSU currently offers courses in Arabic, French, German, Japanese, Mandarin Chinese and Spanish. Any credits beyond 12 don’t add to tuition costs, and MSU offers the option to audit classes, meaning they’re not factored into GPA. So I guess the only question regarding learning another language is “Why not?”