Students who study foreign languages gain access to the thrill of immersing themselves into the mindset, lifestyle and environment of a completely different culture. Very few college students get to experience such transformative and unique learning experiences. Language studies don't just expose people to new words – it also connects people over food, visual art, politics, poetry and media.
Language studies majors often find themselves outside their comfort zones, as they work toward speech and reading proficiency or fluency. They can find jobs with a wide range of tourism, research, retail and academic employers as instructors, interpreters or translators. Many students also get opportunities during college to study abroad, allowing them to apply their language skills in a realistic setting.
Language degree programs will almost always start students with foundational curricula to introduce them to basic vocabulary and grammar concepts. Typically, once undergraduates proceed through the first two years of a language, they will get to take specialty classes, which focus on literature, culture and foreign politics. Many language departments promote an immersive teaching style, encouraging classes to speak only in the foreign language during class, so that students can adjust to new ways of speaking and thinking.
Once students move on to the higher undergraduate and graduate levels, they will use their language expertise to read prominent foreign literature, host discussions, host community outreach events and learn vocabulary for specific scenarios (such as Mandarin for business use). Graduate students often gain exposure to linguistic courses, which analyze a language from its phonetic and written roots.
Students at both the undergraduate and graduate levels are often encouraged to pursue study abroad opportunities, which allow them to take unique localized courses about a location's artwork, culture and politics. Study abroad instructors tend to take advantage of resources, such as prominent art galleries and museums, to help immerse students in a new culture during their study abroad adventures. These experiences also offer students some degree of immersion, allowing students to feel out everyday life in a foreign country.
Since new languages require hundreds of hours to learn, most colleges do not offer specializations at the undergraduate level. Students can easily spend two to four years of their undergraduate career simply learning the core of how to read and speak a new language. However, once students advance to the graduate level, they can explore languages in conjunction with business administration, comparative literature or applied linguistics, to name just a few focuses.
Since learning a language requires a major time investment, it is extremely rare to find degree types shorter than a four-year degree program dedicated to a foreign language. Students pursuing a bachelor's degree will most likely spend all four years gaining proficiency in a new language. Scholars can advance their speaking and reading abilities by surrounding themselves with texts, television shows, movies and audio in the new language. Bachelor's degree holders can often use their new language skills in retail settings, language instruction schools, tourism centers and in marketing departments.
This graduate degree generally takes one to two years to complete after obtaining a bachelor's degree. Master's students will reach new levels of language fluency, which can help them earn employment as an interpreter or translator within various industries. Master's students can also explore teaching at the collegiate level by applying to a Ph.D. program.
Students who progress to a doctorate degree will often spend their time conducting research, sometimes abroad, into a linguistic or literary aspect of a foreign language. At this point, students should be fluent in the foreign language. Those who graduate with a Ph.D. can advance within interpretation and translation companies or teach at the collegiate level.
Many different language departments have their own dedicated honors and professional societies. For example, students studying German might want to consider a Delta Phi Alpha membership, which provides merit-based scholarship opportunities to applicants who wish to fund their studies. Professional societies, such as the Chinese Language Teachers Association, helps instructors fluent in Chinese find job opportunities, networking contacts and continued education.
Ideal Candidates for Language Studies
Learning a foreign language and then engaging others in conversation can take students out of their comfort zone. Ideal language studies candidates are flexible and comfortable with change. These are especially useful traits to have while studying abroad, since students might have to rely on their new vocabulary to navigate around an unfamiliar region.
Language scholars should have a certain degree of patience to improve their speaking proficiency. Adult learners rely heavily on memorization in order to learn foreign words – this means a lot of repetitive practice. Students that study Japanese typically fill notebooks with hiragana, katakana and kanji. Those without patience can quickly grow bored and exasperated with language studies.
Individuals who are driven by curiosity can find success within language studies. Interest in another culture can drive students through long text translations and into new areas within a foreign country. This curiosity can be applied in the classroom, for those who decide to eventually teach language. A person's passion for learning about a culture can be contagious, and help motivate a classroom to master the curricula.
Those who earn an undergraduate degree in a foreign language have several opportunities available within academic, retail, tourism, research and tech industries. Interpreters and translatorsmake an average of $45,430 a year, or $21.84 an hour. The job outlook for these professionals is extremely favorable, with a growth rate of 46% before the year 2022. Students should keep in mind that they will most likely need to pass a certification exam provided by agencies like the American Translators Society or the U.S. Department of State in order to serve as an interpreter or translator.
Graduate students can pursue language teaching jobs at immersion schools or faculty positions at a college. Postsecondary foreign language teachers make an average of $66,730 annually. These professionals might also be able to find teaching opportunities abroad, especially if they can instruct adults on industry-specific vocabularies, such as business and trade.