UCSB requires that all students complete the equivalent of three years’ worth of study of a foreign language in order to graduate. Many Gauchos fulfill this requirement in high school, but the ones who don’t may roll their eyes and groan at the idea of having to learn another random language for seemingly no reason other than to earn their degree.
If you belong to this second group, I understand where you’re coming from. After all, how is a foreign language related to your Biology or Engineering major? But despite how pointless it may seem on the surface, taking foreign language classes, specifically French, at UCSB has been incredibly fulfilling for me in a few ways.
I guess I should begin by explaining the reason I started taking French classes in the first place: I wanted to study abroad in France. I figured I should at least have a baseline knowledge of French vocabulary and grammar before being thrust into the French-speaking world. But UCSB’s French and Italian Department provided me with more than just textbook vocabulary. UCSB structures its foreign language departments so that languages with relevant similarities to one another (i.e. Spanish & Portuguese, French & Italian) are taught within a larger department that includes information about each one’s culture and literature. The materials in my French class, therefore, provided me with a fuller picture of how language matters and functions in everyday life.
Having this understanding of the language’s context and typical conversational flow has made me confident that I will be able to communicate effectively with native French speakers when I study in Paris next winter. I believe the classes I’ve taken have given me a solid foundation of fluency for when I’m fully immersed in the French-speaking world.
Furthermore, language courses at UCSB are very different from typical lectures and sections. Class sizes range from about 10-30 students, and lessons are taught either virtually or in small classrooms on campus. Instructors can lecture on new or important topics, such as learning a new verb tense, but they generally demand a lot of active participation from their students. Students are encouraged and even required to read aloud and speak in class. While it can be stressful, it allows you to truly apply the lessons you’re learning and get helpful feedback from your instructor about pronunciation and grammar. The small classroom setting also fosters a sense of camaraderie among students and serves as a nice change of pace from other courses.
But even if you’re not interested in studying abroad or learning any of the languages listed above, there are still benefits to learning any foreign language. According to Auburn University, learners of second and third languages perform better academically, have improved concentration, and have better memories than monolinguals. Learning, memorizing, and applying all the vocabulary and grammar rules of a foreign language certainly requires a lot of brainpower. So even if the new language itself isn’t directly applicable to your life, it can still help you succeed in other academic pursuits.
Having a basic understanding of another language can assist in your career and travel goals as well. In an increasingly globalized economy, knowing another language is a skill many employers seek in potential job candidates. Being multilingual is a huge asset, especially if you’re interested in job fields such as business, marketing, or teaching. Of course, multilingualism is also great for people who wish to travel frequently in their adult life. While many countries have a decent-sized population of English speakers, it’s extremely helpful to be able to speak a country’s native language in order to gain the respect of locals and communicate effectively with them.
If you’re debating which classes to take to fulfill elective units, I strongly encourage you to sign up for a foreign language class that interests you. You won’t regret the experience!