Anyone looking to learn a language?
We all have different reasons for wanting to learn another language, whether it's improving brain health, experiencing a new culture or landing that dream job, but the vast majority of us find it difficult. Language learning is one of the most poorly taught subjects in American schools, whereas many countries in Europe have students speaking two or three languages by the time they graduate from high school. So I'm here to tell you why you should learn a foreign language in college and why it's definitely NOT too late.
1. You Can Study Abroad in College
Studying abroad might actually be the reason you want to learn that language in the first place, but it's also a huge reason why you should be learning that language now while you're still a student. When you graduate from college, you'll be just as busy (if not more) than you are now, with a job, family and other activities. But if you study abroad, you're learning your language while you're taking classes, which is the "job" that's taking up most of your valuable time. Instead of trying to rearrange your schedule to find space for language lessons or trips to a foreign country, you have the ability to simply walk outside your classroom and start talking to someone!
2. You Have Access to Professional Language Resources
You live on or near a college campus. That means that you live near language professors, speech pathologists (to help with your accent) and dozens if not hundreds of tutors for that language. Likely, you can get assistance from many of these people at a discount, or for free if you're friends with one of them. You can likely take a course to learn a language, or even sit in on classes if you want less of a time commitment.
3. You Have Access to Unprofessional Language Resources
These are things like clubs, discounts on things from Amazon and international students/native speakers, all of which are helpful in language learning. If the language you want to learn is, say, Sanskrit, what are the odds of you running into a native speaker anywhere else besides a college campus? What are the odds of finding a club for it anywhere else? Pretty low. You're also likely receiving discounts from Amazon and other online retailers just for being enrolled in a university; this is useful is you want to buy language-learning software or books.
4. Additional Languages Look Great on Resumes
This isn't so much a "here's why it's easier in college" point so much as a "here's why you should learn it before getting a job" point. Any job that belongs in a service economy such as ours is likely looking for people that can speak more than one language: doctor, politician, accountant, teacher, salesman, consultant, etc. And even if your dream job doesn't involve anything besides English, it still looks impressive and shows that you have dedication and perseverance.
5. You Can Count Language Classes Towards a Minor/Second Major
Why would you want to learn a second language after college when you can no longer claim credit for your classes? That's just ridiculous. If you're going to spend time and effort learning a language, or even pay for classes, why not hit two birds with one stone?
6. The Critical Period Hypothesis is Unsupported by Real Facts
There is a popular misconception known as the "critical period hypothesis," which states that a person can only fluently learn a second language before they pass a certain age. First of all, there's a reason that this is called the critical period hypothesis: because it has little to no proof. Most of the "proof" for it comes from studies in first language learning: generally, if you don't learn any human language (due to isolation) before you turn seven or eight, you can't become fluent in any language at all. But this does not necessarily apply to second language learning, and credible studies in second language learning have mixed results. Many people readily accept the critical period hypothesis because it serves as a scapegoat for poor teaching methods or lack of effort.
Secondly, any surveys you may see can't be considered "science" because there are countless other uncontrolled factors working against adult language learners: they do not have supportive, patient "language parents" to teach them, they have less impetus to learn the language because they already have a perfectly useful one for everyday life and, most importantly, they are generally more self-conscious than small children. It's difficult for adults to accept their mistakes because we're so used to speaking without being corrected, and that shame makes us less inclined to practice speaking a language.
7. Your Past Experience Doesn't Count Because You've Been Doing it Wrong
You may be thinking, "Oh, but I've had so much trouble learning languages in school." Well, textbooks are how people learn chemistry, not languages. You didn't learn English from a textbook, so why would you try to learn any other language with a textbook? You learn language by immersion: having fun, playing games, singing songs, gossiping with friends, etc. You essentially learn languages through active learning. This means that even if you're surrounded by Spanish 24/7 or live in Spain but never try speaking it, you'll never learn it. I know being actively involved in learning is work, but there are ways to have fun while being involved.
8. "But I Don't Have Time!"
And you never will. I’ve been learning languages for six years now, and I’ve never had “enough time." It takes years to master a language, so don’t just think you can “wait until summer” or even “take a gap year.” Practice for ten minutes every day, and you’ll see outstanding progress. This is also why you should study abroad in a country that speaks your target language: it greatly reduces the amount of time you need to take to practice because you can practice literally everywhere.
College really is the best time to start or finish learning a foreign language, especially when you consider how unknown your future is after you graduate. But don't be discouraged if you're still making slow progress, or if you can't dedicate the time to truly master a language in the next four years. What's important is making as much progress as possible while your life is still, for the most part, a blank slate. Engaging the language community at your college will open up countless new doors in your life, but those doors will stay closed if you don't have the courage to look for them.
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