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Intercultural Competence,
by Myron W. Lustig,
Jolene Koester

Why learn languages?

10 good reasons why you should be learning a foreign language (#8-10)

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8. To expand study abroad options

"Two roads diverged in a wood, and I -
I took the one less traveled by,
and that has made all the difference." - Robert Frost, American poet

Because relatively few Americans are competent in foreign languages, competition for study abroad programs in English-speaking countries is sometimes intense. Unfortunately, students often shy away from studying in countries where English is not the native language for all the wrong reasons. They mistakenly believe that their grades will suffer, that their language proficiency isn't adequate, or that they won't be able to fit in or understand the culture.

Simply your willingness to learn a language can make you an apt candidate for many study abroad programs. Some foreign programs require no prior language experience and offer an intensive immersion experience prior to the selected program of study. Other programs require only a few semesters of prior language instruction. Whatever program you choose, continued language study while in the foreign country is typical. The benefit is that students can leave the language classroom and immediately put into practice what they have learned in class. Because students can focus on their language development while learning about the culture, their daily experiences and courses complement one another, leading to comparable or even better grades than at the home institution, where students often take a myriad of courses that have little or no connection.

For advanced language students, the opportunities are even greater. Applicants at the advanced skill level can participate in programs that allow them to be fully immersed and integrated into the academic and social life of the country in which they are studying. See our study abroad pages for more information.

Book tips: In addition, the following books address multiple study abroad issues in greater depth:

Study Abroad 101, by Wendy Williamson, 196 p. (2008)101 questions and answers about study abroad, from before you apply to after you return home. Covers such topics as: Narrowing Down the Options, Planning your Trip, Health and Safety Concerns, Managing Money Abroad, Life in Another Country, Living with the Locals, Keeping in Touch with Home, Life After Study Abroad, Top Secrets You Should Know.

Study Abroad: How to Get the Most Out of Your Experience, by Michele-Marie Dowell, Kelly P. Mirsky, 208 p. (2002) Once you've decided to embark on the study abroad journey, this book is a must. Reflecting on your experience is the single most important way to reap the greatest rewards of studying abroad and this book guides you in doing just that. It guides you through pre-departure, on-site, and re-entry phases of your experience, and stimulates personal development, learning about your own and the target culture and about learning languages in general, and encourages you to connect your experience to your career plans. A must-have for anyone planning to study abroad!

9. To increase understanding of oneself and one's own culture

"The individual's whole experience is built upon the plan of his language." - Henri Delacroix, French painter and filmmaker

"As the traveler who has once been from home is wiser than he who has never left his own doorstep, so a knowledge of one other culture should sharpen our ability to scrutinize more steadily, to appreciate more lovingly, our own." - Margaret Mead, American anthropologist

Knowing another language and culture affords you the unique opportunity of seeing yourself and your own culture from an outside perspective. There are aspects of your language, yourself, your life, and your own culture that you accept as absolute and universal or that you have never even considered until you encounter a culture and people who do things in a much different way than you're used to. Contact with other languages and cultures gives you the unique opportunity to step outside your familiar scope of existence and view your culture's customs, traditions, and norms as well as your own value system through the eyes of others. Conversely, a monolingual, monocultural view of the world severely limits your perspective. Intercultural experiences have a monumental influence on shaping your identity, heightening your self-awareness, and giving you a full appreciation of your life situation. These things can happen only with knowledge of cultures and languages other than your own.

10. To make lifelong friends

"The most important trip you may take in life is meeting people halfway." - Henry Boye, author

Knowing other languages effectively increases the number of people on the globe with whom you can communicate. And people who speak other languages fully appreciate the effort and desire learners expend to get to know their culture and to communicate with them. Whether through meeting foreign exchange students on your campus or local immigrants in your community, whether getting to know natives or international students while studying abroad, or whether establishing a connection with a pen pal in another country, your ability to speak other languages and your interest in other cultures can connect you deeply with people around the globe.

Anyone who has told you that learning another language is impractical, unrewarding, or simply a waste of your precious time is doing you a great disservice. Take advantage and enhance your life ... learn a language!

Are you still wondering what you can do with a language major?
See our Career resources for foreign language majors.

Trying to decide on a specific language?
See some excellent reasons to learn German, Japanese, or Spanish!

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