Maggie Connolly ’21
Holy Cross, as well as many other universities, require several semesters of studying a foreign language. Here, most study abroad programs involve at least three or four semesters of a language in order to study in a country with a language barrier. There is a common narrative in the United States of looking down on learning a new language. They speak English practically everywhere, so we should not worry about other languages, right? Wrong.
Regardless of whether or not you choose to study abroad, studying foreign languages have benefits far beyond simply feeling more comfortable in a foreign environment. According to Auburn University’s foreign language department, studying a language helps analytical and critical thinking skills. Being able to understand a different language and how it works trains your brain to slow down, in the same way studying math as an English major can benefit the ways you learn without necessarily directly informing your personal field of study.
On top of this, learning another language reduces cultural prejudice and provides for a greater understanding of an area of the world besides our own. Through studying languages, we develop an appreciation and often an affinity for another part of the world. Most language courses, both in high school and college, involve some sort of cultural education on top of simply learning vocabulary and verb conjugation. Learning these things simultaneously gives students a connection to a new part of the world, especially those students who would not be able to travel otherwise.
Language requirements for study abroad, although cumbersome, are essential in understanding and remaining in a non-English speaking country for a long period of time. Visiting a country for several weeks versus staying with a family and attending a school in the area are two different experiences. As a student living and studying in a different culture, one of the most important and impactful ways to understand and accept the culture as a whole is to understand the language and what it means to the people of a different country. This is why schools like Holy Cross push the semesters of study they do when it comes to studying abroad in a country with a different primary language. Even a basic understanding of the language and the attempt to use it with locals could be beneficial.
As Americans, we have a very English-centric culture. While many countries in Europe start teaching English in elementary or middle school, most American students in the public-school system start learning English in middle school at the earliest. I personally attended an inner-city public-school system and was only offered the opportunity to take a language my freshman year of high school. This is a fundamental problem with the educational institution in the United States and the attitude we have towards ourselves versus other nations and cultures.
Studying language and learning the language before going abroad, although occasionally tedious and can seem like another class that takes up a spot in your schedule, is a vital part of the education process. The benefits of studying language are beyond benefitting a major or an interest. Let’s start taking initiative as a nation and fully adopt the identity of the multicultural nation we truly are.