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A future in Foreign Language
By Amber Gragert
The study of language opens our mind's eye to understanding the world in new ways, identify commonalities within other cultures and learn to respect any cultural differences we may have.
"Language is the road map of culture. It tells you where its people have come from and where they are going." -Rita Mae Brown
Learning a new language changes your perspective and challenges you to think not only of vocabulary but also challenges you to listen to the heartbeat of that culture. Students who major in a language gain the ability to communicate effectively in spoken and written forms, study the language in its multifaceted presence which includes: history, literature, politics and the arts. Students are then well-equipped to enter a variety of fields and/or to continue their education through professional or graduate school.
The skills acquired as a language major are increasingly popular and useful in areas like international business and, of course, there are some specific languages that are in particular demand. Interpreters and translators assist in cross-cultural communication and relations. These are crucial elements in today's interdependent world that is constantly expanding and overlapping each other like paint on canvas. For example, the number of Spanish speaking people in the United States has grown exponentially over the last decade. That naturally becomes a desired and needed language among employers that have a need to communicate effectively with Spanish speaking employees and customers. Arabic is another example: Arabic speakers are in high demand particularly in government, international relations and national security sectors for the same reasons.
Staying with these examples, we can say by knowing another person's language, we then have the ability to understand their culture and customs which in turn creates a clearer perspective in how to do business with them and effectively meet their needs. That said, knowing a language is one thing but applying it is another. It is important with this study and line of work to really put it into practice in all areas. Keeping up with their popular media or reading their newspapers and trade publications gives you an advantage in understanding the business environment from their perspective and how that translates into how they do business.
When researching what language(s) you would like to pursue, you should know that translators are in highest demand in what is referred to as "PFIGS" - which stands for: Portuguese, French, Italian, German, and Spanish. Then add on the principle Asian languages like Chinese, Japanese, and Korean. The more language education you have as an interpreter or translator, the better as it widens your view into another culture and helps to shape your world view.
Jobs that best utilize a language degree involve either interpretation via spoken words or translation via written documents. Career opportunities for language majors exist in many outlets such as: diplomacy, education, foreign services, intelligence gathering, international relations, journalism, literature, medicine, non-profit organizations and tourism.
Keep in mind that an arts & humanities degree as a language major is very different from a linguistics degree. Language majors choose a language (and, in turn, a culture) to study and the language and sentence structure. Although requirements can vary dramatically, nearly all interpreters and translators have a bachelor's degree.
There will also typically be study-abroad components to your education which is sometimes required but, at the very least, strongly encouraged. These range from a summer program, a semester or full year program. Even if you are already fluent in another language, studying it abroad broadens your cultural awareness, enhances your attention to nuances in communication, understanding contextual vocabulary and builds superb communication and listening skills.