Why You Should Study a Foreign Language in School

Mastering a foreign language can help you in more ways that one! Read on to explore the benefits.

Varsity Tutors
November 29, 2016

Are you a language-learning dropout? Maybe you remember "la discoteca" from seventh-grade Spanish class but don’t recall enough actual grammar to string a sentence together. Don’t give up: learning a foreign language isn’t easy, but the benefits can be long-lasting.

Here are just a few of the reasons studying a foreign language is an important part of your education:   

You can be a stronger candidate for jobs and internships

You probably already know that having a second language on your resume looks impressive. Beyond that, fluency in another language can open new career doors for you and give you a real edge over the competition in your field. And while being multilingual can be an asset in any business environment, you may find yourself in particularly high demand if you can go into interpretation or translation, which is a fast-growing job market.

Language skills may increase your chances of keeping your job or internship once you have one, too. If you are the only intern in your department or company who can speak Mandarin, for example, you may be seen as more invaluable. Census numbers show 80 percent of the U.S. population speaks only English at home, so you are very likely to have a leg up on the competition if you are fluent in second language.

So, what languages give you the biggest edge? It may depend on your industry, but with a fast-growing number of speakers in the U.S. and worldwide, Spanish is often helpful (although more widely spoken by Americans than most languages). Worldwide, Mandarin Chinese has the largest number of speakers and is important to many in the business world. Arabic, Portuguese, and Russian are also among the most widely spoken languages worldwide.

Your communication skills will improve

Think about how sheepish you feel when trying to pronounce unfamiliar words in another language. Correct pronunciation is the most basic thing you learn about a new language, and mastering it can help your ability to communicate effectively within other cultures. Remember that without knowing the rules of how the letters sound, you can’t begin to speak it properly. If you’ve taken a few years of Spanish, you may not remember 10 years later that “mantequilla” means “butter,” but you’ll probably still know to pronounce the double l’s like a y.

You will sharpen your mind

To put it simply, being multilingual is good for your brain. Research has shown that knowing a foreign language has strong effects on the brain that can protect against dementia later in life. Those benefits come from the way your brain resolves internal conflict between active language systems. Essentially, even when a bilingual person is using only one language, both languages are active in the brain, giving it a greater cognitive workout.

You'll have more study-abroad opportunities

Don’t you want to be one of those people who just can’t stop telling stories that start with, “During my semester in Barcelona …”? There’s a reason those who study abroad typically can’t stop talking about it: It can change your worldview and your life.

Yes, it costs money and you might get homesick. But the practice you’ll get in your foreign language by encountering it daily is something unique that you can’t replicate solely in the classroom. To learn a language, you have to speak it, and the cultural lessons and understanding you’ll learn by spending a few months in another country are priceless.

It will make you better at English, too

When you speak and write English as your native language, you’re probably not thinking much about grammatical rules on a daily basis. You may or may not be following the rules correctly, but either way, the way you use English is ingrained knowledge. With a new language, though, you’ll be more aware of grammatical nuances, spelling, and word use, and that can boost your overall language skills and comprehension.

Lora Wegman is a contributing writer for Varsity Tutors, a live learning platform that connects students with personalized instruction to accelerate academic achievement.

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