Can Language Learning Help You Achieve Your Dreams?

So you slept through two years of Spanish in high school to meet your graduation requirements, only to find out that when you got to college, you had another foreign language requirement to complete! You just need to meet the minimum requirement of 2 more years — that shouldn’t be so bad…

Whether you are a college freshman or a strapping senior, colleges today are pushing you to begin thinking about your career path from day one of stepping onto campus. Between cramming in classes to meet requirements to get our diplomas and scrambling to get into courses that meet distribution levels for our majors, we often forget to stop and think about how all of these subjects are pushing us towards our future, especially when it comes to language.

Pause with us for a second — Where do you see yourself in 10 years? Take a minute right now and ask yourself: How can learning a language help you get there?

With so many schools building these language requirements into their standard curriculums, we are doing whatever we can to learn the “easiest” language. The language-of-least-resistance method is not necessarily a bad thing — sometimes the best way to get started in any area of study is to start simple, at a place where you can easily understand the material and move forward. However, when we think about learning a language, should we really be taking the most effortless path?

Learning a language can do so much for us both personally and professionally, so let’s learn languages. But first, let’s think about how learning a language will help us achieve our life goals.

Did you know that learning a language can support your learning in other subjects? You can boost creative thinking abilities as well as garnering soft skills like getting better at conversational speaking. Maybe you’re looking towards a career related to:

  • the Environment… At a time when less than 20 percent of American adultsspeak a language other than English, how are we ever going to address climate change in our global community? Learning another language to find a common language within communities could help you communicate successful sustainable practices around the world, especially with those who are most disconnected from social media networks that are likely to be the most affected by climate change.
  • Economics or Business… Here in the United States it is common myth that everyone in the world speaks English. In reality though, over 5.4 billion peoplearound the world do NOT speak English– there are even 25 million Americansthat don’t speak it! In our increasingly globalized economy where markets are constantly changing, the interconnectivity of our communication is vital towards both distribution and advancement. How many people are we leaving out of the conversation by only speaking English?
  • Politics… We live in an age in which physical boundaries and political borders no longer dictate the identities (or languages) or their inhabitants. Looking towards your future platform, how can you best represent your constituency? Why, learning their languages, of course! There is also a steep language-learning deficit in the government– learning a second language could be your standout résumé skill to get you the job!
  • Writing… In a world in which multilingualism is trending towards the new norm, reaching audiences outside your own linguistic narrative is becoming increasingly vital to the survival of media, both on and offline. With more and more people gaining access to the Internet, the ability to localize your content in native tongues is opening careers for translators, writers, and communication positions worldwide. Personalization of marketing experiences opens up your story.

Keep in mind that learning a language without a specific application still has many additional benefits! You don’t have to know right now where a new language fits into your future to know that it is going to boost any of your possible paths. Your path isn’t just limited to your job! What about:

  • places you want to travel… Learning the local languages of the locations on your next adventure will immerse you in the culture, cuisine, and landscape, allowing you to experience this place on a more intimate level than wandering around lost with a foreign language catchphrase dictionary ever will! Get to know the locals and forge lasting memories.
  • personal goals… Like to cook? Enjoy reading? Fancy artwork? Broaden your cultural horizons by learning a new language and gain all the intricate knowledge, recipes, and histories that come from this fresh perspective.
  • enriching your relationships… Taking the time to speak someone else’s language — to meet them halfway — can bring your relationships with others to new levels of respect and understanding. If we want to build a truly global community, speaking another language is where we must start in order to bring everyone to the table.

Learning a language is not a waste of time. It shouldn’t feel like a chore, or that one class you just have to suffer through in order to graduate. Language can help you achieve your goals and dreams — you just have to take the time to figure out where (and how) learning a language fits into your life.

Now what happens if you find the perfect language for your future, but your college doesn’t offer it? Well, we have an answer for you.

The Student Language Exchange is currently hosting the Lift Off with Language Contest in which you can win a free subscription to Mango Languages for your whole university, opening up your campus to over 70 languages. You can also win the opportunity to help choose the next Lingua.ly language, which is yet another awesome online language-learning platform to help you learn the language that fits your life. Just send in a 750-word essay or a 3-minute video about what language you want to learn next and why, and you could win these sweet prizes as well as cash awards!

Instead of forcing ourselves to take a language for graduation, we should be challenging ourselves to imagine our futures, and to start working towards those dreams.

Where will we be? And how will learning a language help us get there, together?

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This piece was co-written by Kirsten Craig, Director of Media at the Student Language Exchange. It was originally posted in the Huffington Post.

Amelia Friedman

Amelia Friedman

Amelia is the founder and executive director of the Student Language Exchange, an education nonprofit she founded while in college. She graduated magna cum laude from Brown University in May 2014. There, she helped teach a course on leading social ventures, served as a mentor to student entrepreneurs, and was selected as a C.V. Starr Social Entrepreneurship Fellow. An active global education advocate, Amelia has written about language learning for Forbes, the Huffington Post and USA Today. Amelia has been invited to speak about social enterprise and the Student Language Exchange at the U.S. Capitol, SXSW, TEDx, and numerous academic conferences. She is currently a Halcyon Fellow living in Washington, D.C.

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