A Student’s Perspective: Five Reasons to Study Languages

international education panel

Marianne Zape speaking at ED’s “Succeeding Globally through International Education and Engagement Panel”

Recently, I participated in a panel discussion on ED’s international strategy, “Succeeding Globally Through International Education and Engagement.”  Maureen McLaughlin, senior advisor to Secretary Duncan and director of international affairs, asked me what advice I would give to U.S. students contemplating whether or not to study another language.

My suggestion? You absolutely should! For one, it’s fun, and beyond that, there are countless benefits. Here are my top five reasons for learning another language:

  1. Learn about new cultures and ideas. Language and culture are intertwined. Whatever language you choose to learn, it will always tell you something about the society in which it is spoken. Whether it’s through words whose meanings have evolved over time, popular sayings, or knowing cultural faux pas to avoid, you will learn more than just grammar and vocabulary.
  2. Better understand your own language. When you learn a new language, your natural reaction will probably be to compare it to your own. You’ll start to notice similarities and differences in mechanics and structure that will make you think more about your first language.
  3. Establish meaningful connections. Making an effort to speak to someone in his or her native language, even if you’re not the best at it, shows how interested you are in getting to know them. I’ve also learned that there is no better way to improve than to have a native speaker help you. They may not know that you’re familiar with their language at first glance, but when you make the effort, you might just get a really good tutor and a new friend. I did!
  4. Gain a professional advantage. Having foreign language skills can set you apart and give you an edge over the competition. Many sectors hire bilingual or multilingual candidates to avoid costly mistranslations, deliver services to non-English speakers more efficiently, and to gain access to documents unavailable in English. While researching the French Revolution for a class, I found so many intriguing sources–journals and letters–that weren’t in English. Familiarity with French allowed me to incorporate them in my work.
  5. Build resilience, confidence, and independence. Like all new things, learning languages can be daunting, but the challenges you face are part of the process that make it even more of an achievement! Knowing that you have the skills to navigate on your own and communicate effectively provides a sense of security and comfort even in an unfamiliar environment.

Be it personal or professional, learning another language is a truly meaningful experience with benefits that can last a lifetime.

Please click on this link to watch the full May 23 panel discussion.

Marianne Zape, an intern with ED’s International Affairs Office and a student at UC San Diego, speaks Tagalog, English and French.

Celebrating the National Language Teacher of the Year and Foreign Language Partnerships

As part of Teacher Appreciation Week, Secretary Arne Duncan recognized Mr. Noah Geisel as the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) National Language Teacher of the Year. Mr. Geisel, a Spanish teacher at East High School in Denver, said his enthusiasm for teaching Spanish “comes from my love of language and culture, and belief that language learning and understanding of cultures are essential to my students’ futures.”

Noah Arne Teacher of Year

Secretary Duncan and Noah Geisel, the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) National Language Teacher of the Year

Secretary Duncan and the U.S. Department of Education share Mr. Geisel’s belief in the importance of foreign languages and global competencies to the future of our nation’s students and a key part of a world-class education. As Secretary Duncan has said, “to prosper economically and to improve relations with other countries, Americans need to read, speak and understand other languages.” And this is something that I have seen personally, both while working on the President’s National Security Staff and now leading our Office of International and Foreign Language Education here at the Department of Education.

In the months ahead, we look forward to working with foreign language teachers like Mr. Geisel across the country as we continue our Fulbright-Hays and Higher Education Title VI programs and encourage new partnerships between institutions of higher education and neighboring schools and communities.  For example, Language Resource Centers throughout the country provide materials and training for K-12 teachers, who then are equipped with the tools and additional knowledge to further world language learning at the K-12 level.

This is the kind of partnership that makes foreign language programs sustainable and develops the cradle-to-career pipeline that we need for foreign language competencies. Check out some of the opportunities offered by our International and Foreign Language Office, and be sure to sign up for our newsletter while there and please also send us your ideas and examples of the great partnerships you have developed to IFLE@ed.gov!

Clay Pell is deputy assistant secretary for International and Foreign Language Education