When it comes to foreign languages in today’s society, being conversational is no longer enough.
If you hope to use your language skills as leverage to snag a job post-graduation, become fluent. Don’t simply overinflate your abilities and slap on a fluent label, actually become fluent.
Yet, despite an explosion of study abroad programs around the country, the task of developing fluency in a language is not as simple as it seems.
Languages such as Italian are only offered at lower levels, and Portuguese is being cut from schools around the country.
The latter comes as a shock simply because the World Cup and the Olympics will both be held in the largest Portuguese speaking country (Brazil) in the next four years.
They are going to need supplemental workers from all trades and majors — but knowing Portuguese will be a must.
When it comes to learning languages like Greek, I hope that you planned ahead and selected one of the seventeen schools in the country who offer the modern form of the language as a major—otherwise you will have to settle perusing the philosophy courses finding its ancient roots.
There seems to be a gap between the languages that students are interested in learning and the courses that are offered.
So which languages do students want to learn?
A recent USA Today College poll indicated that 44% of students would enroll in a Spanish course for their next foreign language course.
The numbers quickly tapper off after that — with Chinese being the second most popular language at 11%, and Arabic attracting 9% of students. Closely trailing are the three languages that are commonly found in universities across the country —- at least at the beginner level: German, French, and Italian all tallied in 8% each.
According to College Board, only 29 colleges and universities in the U.S. offer Arabic as a major while 111 have Chinese as a major option. Many other schools offer courses in these two languages allowing students to become familiar with a language, but not necessarily have the mastery of the language that a major would.
Finding a school with a Spanish or French major, however, is as simple as finding a university with a history major — most liberal arts institutes have one.
So what should you do if you want to achieve fluency in a language that your university does not offer advanced courses in?
You have a few options. Start with your foreign language studies department and make a case for said language — just make sure that there will be enough student interest.
If that option does not seem likely, there are a few schools across the country that have devised self-directed language learning programs. You select the language you want to learn, develop a plan and goals with a professor and teach yourself the language, supplemented by a language partner (a native speaker) to assist with the oral and cultural dynamics of the language.
Otherwise, if finding resources on campus seems like a lost-cause, there are always summer programs — like Middlebury’s language learning program or volunteer/internship opportunities with minority communities.
Whichever route you end up choosing, amplifying your foreign language skills to a level higher from “I can order food off a menu” to “I can conduct a business meeting or a full-fleged interview” will only lead to good things. And job offers.
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