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Why Language Requirements in College are Beneficial

Hola, Bonjour, こんにちは, Χαίρετε, Hello, مرحبا, नमस्ते, Ciao, Olá, 你好, שלום, Здравствуйте

It is estimated that more than 7,000 living languages exist, most of which are characterized by unique dialects. Attached to these languages are complex histories, cultures, and works of literature. It is, in my opinion, an incredible gift to be multilingual, and admittedly, when I meet someone who casually mentions they speak 5 languages, I am both awed and deeply envious. With a major in Latin American Studies and a working knowledge of the Spanish language, I am on the path to bilingualism- a constant and definitive goal of mine.

For many students, however, a second language is a mere obligation that they hurriedly work to check off their list of gen-ed requirements. Here at Boston University, students in the College of Arts and Sciences must complete the study of a language at the fourth-semester level or demonstrate an equated level of proficiency. Entering college with two full years of language study ahead of you can not only feel daunting but spark irritation towards the fact that for two years, one of your precious classes will be dominated by this requirement. In order to remedy this exasperation, I would like to make a case for why language study is not only a smart tactic on the part of the university but also an enriching experience.

Growing up, Spanish was the only foreign language offered in the middle and high school I attended. A publication by Instituto Cervantes at FAS-Harvard University notes “in the United States, after English, Spanish is the most common language, spoken by approximately 38 million people,” while a 2008 survey conducted by the Center for Applied Linguistics concluded, that Spanish was the most widely taught language in American school systems. Considering America’s current demographics and the sheer volume of Spanish speakers residing in the US, there exists a viable argument for the emphasis on Spanish language instruction. However, while I was lucky enough to develop a preliminary interest and later love for Spanish, not every middle and higher school undergoes a similar experience. College is the place to discover your linguistic passion.

Most universities offer a host of languages to choose from. BU itself offers Arabic, Chinese, French, German, modern and classical Greek, Hebrew, Hindi-Urdu, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Latin, Persian, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Turkish, and a variety of African languages including: Swahili, Amharic, Zulu, Igbo, Hausa, Wolof, Akan Twi, and isiXhosa. So before you arbitrarily enroll in a language course, peruse your university’s website and study the courses offered in every language with the goal of finding one that genuinely incites interest.

Do you have a favorite book that was originally written in Russian? Do you plan on studying abroad and want to prepare yourself to be an adept communicator upon arrival? These are just a few legitimate reasons for avidly studying a language of your choice.

The ability to speak multiple languages is a commodity in today’s professional environment. I recently attended a career symposium here at BU in which one of the panelists revealed she was offered her current job due to the fact that she spoke three languages. Research suggests that employers are more likely to higher multilingual candidates. The BBC published an article stating, “one estimate puts the value of knowing a second language at up to $128,000 over 40 years.” Should you be interested in pursuing an international career, speaking the language of the country in which you wish to work is also surely beneficial.

Continually, universities offer a plethora of study abroad programs. Regardless of your major, use your impending study abroad adventure as an incentive to learn a new language. You don’t have to become fluent to order your meal in a restaurant or introduce yourself to a new colleague. Practicing the language of the country you are residing in will make you feel more at home as well as show an active effort on your part to interact with your surroundings and its inhabitants.

Multilingualism gifts an essence of worldliness. Even if you aren’t fluent in a language, you will gain valuable insight into the culture of a country or region. Language, after all, is often emblematic of national and personal identity. I encountered this ideology firsthand when I traveled to Medellín, Colombia in the summer of 2017. I was conversing with a woman who recounted the experience of raising her daughter. She introduced the term la dieta to our discussion. In the context of our conversation, I ignorantly assumed she began dieting after her pregnancy. My professor, privy to this story and significantly more knowledgeable about local culture, later explained that la dieta was a familial tradition in which women, post-birth, were nourished and cared for by their families in order to recover from their 9 months of pregnancy and the birthing process. In reality, this woman had introduced me to an intimate and important family custom, all through the utilization of a single phrase.

Gloria Anzaldúa- activist, writer, and educator- wrote a stunning essay entitled “How to Tame a Wild Tongue,” published in Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza. In this essay, she explores the concept of a Borderland, linguistic identity and repression, and the multitude of lesser-known Spanish dialects, including her own: Chicano/a Spanish.  I would strongly encourage you to read this. In her work, she writes…

“So, if you want to really hurt me, talk badly about my language. Ethnic identity is twin skin to linguistic identity – I am my language. Until I can take pride in my language, I cannot take pride in myself.”

A language is more than verbs and conjugations. A language is a complex being, composed of rigid laws, varying styles, and evolving colloquialisms. A language and a population have a partnership. They represent each other’s values, beliefs, and modes of self-expression. Gloria Anzaldúa’s declaration expands beyond the Spanish language. It can be applied to all languages and those who wield them. When you commit to studying a language, you also commit to studying a people and everything that encompasses.

I know four semesters of a language doesn’t promise fluency, but this newfound knowledge, combined with sincere interest, should motivate you to continue your studies, maybe through the procurement of a minor. Don’t have time to add a minor to your already busy schedule? Make an effort to engage in daily conversation of the language you are learning. Any passionate professor will welcome a pleasant conversation during office hours and will be pleased their student is taking the initiative to utilize their developing language skills. For all you know, this language could be your passport to an exciting international journey.

A language requirement shouldn’t feel like an obligation or something to simply get out of the way. Use the requirement as an opportunity to explore a subject you previously never thought you’d have access to.


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Emilee is a BU alumni from Charleston, South Carolina. She graduated with a BA Latin American Studies and a minor in Comparative Literature.  In addition to writing for Her Campus she enjoys reading, grabbing coffee with friends, and playing in the snow. She takes frequent trips to Ontario- the home of her family and grew up riding horses. Her favorite show is New Girl and she sees every day as an opportunity to pet a new dog. 
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