top left: Colosseum, Italy; top right: Neuschwanstein castle, bottom left: ceiling of the Church of All Saints, Russia; bottom right: Paris at night

Why study another language?

Beauty in Language Study

by Clara Cushing // Rhetoric and Writing Studies student

In Europe, 92 percent of students study a foreign language before university. In the U.S., only 20 percent of students do so. Indeed, university enrollment in foreign language classes is declining as people fail to understand language as a public good worthy of public funding.

Clarissa Clò, Ph.D., Chair, European Studies, believes that language study is vital in the 21st century for equity, diversity, and democracy. Studying a second or third language creates a deeper understanding of our postcolonial, globalized world, and it also develops a wide range of skills such as critical thinking, interpersonal communication, self-awareness, and transcultural competence. “There are things about being a human that are important, and learning a language fulfills those types of interests” Clò states. Susanne Forrayi, a current graduate student in French and aspiring Ph.D. candidate and teacher, poignantly summarizes that learning languages simply makes us “better humans.”

Fortunately for students, becoming a better human also comes with some concrete benefits for entering the workforce. “Employers are looking for workers who are curious, capable of understanding both local and global contexts,” Clò comments. “They’re looking for soft transferable skills that include listening and communicating, empathy. They want people who understand the value of different points of view.” Jordan Ford, an undergraduate student double majoring in information systems and French, says that second or third language competency is particularly useful for job applications, since it provides proof of skills that can be difficult to demonstrate only in a resume. He also notes that when networking, cultural understanding can result in deeper connections.

In addition to these soft skills, modern workplaces actively seek to hire people who can speak more than one language. Before starting her graduate program, Forrayi worked for six years in bilingual customer service and technical support. “If you’re able to work in another language then you do have job security, and this is definitely something that is sought-after—for international companies, for people who work with different clients for different parts of the world.” Ford says his language study will open his opportunities to over 100 million more people, enabling him to work with companies like Microsoft to support the growing economies of French-speaking Africa. “When you add the mass of AI research coming from Paris,” he remarks, “it’s apparent that French will be instrumental to leveraging this technology for IT innovations and growth.”

CAL language departments are devoted to enhancing student learning through small class sizes that build community between peers and encourage participation in class. Students can also participate in one-on-one mentoring and can join co-curricular clubs, like the French club in which Forrayi is president. A highlight at SDSU is high-impact practices (HIPs), which are intensive teaching and learning experiences that are aimed at helping students succeed during and after college. Opportunities include: learning communities, service-learning courses, undergraduate research with a faculty member, internships, field experience, student teaching, study abroad, and a culminating senior experience. According to Clò, "Language learning is HIP."

All of these benefits come only as a result of the students’ dedication and perseverance to the challenging work of attaining another language. From both a graduate and undergraduate perspective, Forrayi and Ford agree that speaking is one of the most difficult and intimidating aspects of language learning. However, after overcoming the fear of making mistakes in class, or after being immersed in a study abroad program, confidence grows naturally. "A simpler reason for learning a language," Clò notes, "is that it makes you a more beautiful person, better able to understand yourself and relate to others.”

Greater confidence, greater beauty, greater humanity—studying a foreign language is an investment in self-growth as well as in career security and opportunities. In our increasingly globalized world, it is something that is hugely advantageous not only to individuals but to society
as a whole.