Reasons why you should study languages at university

Hi, my name is Tamina and I’m studying a French and Spanish BA.

In no particular order, here are some of the reasons why I think a lot more students could do with pursuing languages at university. Of course, I may be slightly biased, but stick with me.

1. Employers want people with language skills
It may seem to be a long way off, but fluency in foreign languages is an attractive skill to have when searching for employment after university, especially as many businesses and industries are becoming increasingly international. Don’t forget the plethora of transferable skills, both academic and personal, that you gain from studying languages at university level. Language learning encourages a global mindset, the ability to work both independently and cooperatively. It demonstrates that you’re dedicated: If your first language is English, the most widely spoken language in the world, and the third most common one, and yet you’ve made the effort to learn one, two or even three more languages rather than rely on being monolingual, then you’ve gone above and beyond.

Claire, a 4th year Spanish and ab initio Portuguese student here at King’s, now fluent in both, spent half of her year abroad working with the MUSADE Association (Mujeres Unidas en Salud y Desarrollo) in Costa Rica, and the other half at the University of Coimbra in Portugal.

2. Discovery of new cultures and things that you’d never imagined enjoying
The study of foreign languages opens the door to so many disciplines and of course, cultures. It allows you, if you so desire, to delve in to so many other areas beside language-learning, literature and history. At King’s, I’ve had the chance to also explore cinema, art, politics and music within the Francophone, Hispanophone and even Lusophone world. For example, I had never thought that I’d be fascinated by medieval French love poetry, nor had I previously studied protest songs. I really do feel that the course content for a languages degree is stimulating across the board: it constantly opens your eyes and broadens your horizons.

3. Become a better communicator
Studying languages inevitably shapes you into a better communicator who can quickly adapt to different situations and cultures. As language students, we have to learn to communicate effectively, especially when there are gaps in our language knowledge which force us to rethink how to explain concepts and situations. As a result, we often become more outgoing and responsive, particularly when speaking our newly-acquired languages. Believe me, as a multilingual individual who is interested in other cultures besides your own, you’ll have many more interesting and fun interactions than you ever would have had in an English bubble.

4. You’ll be able to travel all over the world and spend a whole year abroad
Sure, you can usually get by speaking in English in many popular travel destinations, but it’s much more fun to be able to fully immerse yourself in a foreign country and make the most of your travels by speaking the same language as its inhabitants. People really do appreciate when you make the effort to speak their language and learn about their culture: it makes these interactions a lot more meaningful. Furthermore, the vast majority of language degrees include a year abroad where you’ll spend time in a country where the languages you’re learning are actually spoken. This time is invaluable, unforgettable, and the part of the degree that many of us look forward to the most, not to mention an experience that can really boost your C.V.

5. Speaking more than one language is good for your health
The health advantages of the continued study of foreign languages are well documented, no matter what age you are. Beyond the obvious social benefits, memory improvement, a longer attention span, a reduced risk of cognitive decline as you age and even creativity are just a few of the known positive effects of speaking two or more languages. To quote Viorica Marian, Ph.D. and Anthony Shook in their study The Cognitive Benefits of Being Bilingual;

‘The cognitive, neural, and social advantages observed in bilingual people highlight the need to consider how bilingualism shapes the activity and the architecture of the brain, and ultimately how language is represented in the human mind, especially since the majority of speakers in the world experience life through more than one language.’

6. You’ll learn more about your native language
You may have noticed this already from studying languages, but we often find that all this learning about the mechanics of other languages also makes us more aware of our mother tongue. Subsequently, you can become more articulate in your native language as you improve in speaking, writing, reading and listening in your new ones.

7. It’s unique
Any university degree takes work, but any degree that includes a language takes you beyond the classroom and beyond borders, expanding your world view, and often, your tolerance and curiosity for the unknown: in today’s social and political climate, we need language graduates more than ever. So, don’t be afraid to continue with your languages if you love them, or to start one from scratch at university.

Even if you’re not thinking about studying solely languages at university, consider taking a degree that incorporates a foreign language module or at the very least, the opportunity to study abroad!


updated January 2019.

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