Many benefits come from studying a foreign language

May 05, 2003|by ROSE RENNEKAMP

Not long ago, a friend's son was trying to explain why he didn't want to take a foreign language in high school. He just didn't see the point.

He wanted to be a structural engineer when he graduated from college and couldn't see the benefit of studying something that he was sure he wasn't going to use.

What he didn't understand was that the study of foreign languages is beneficial to all students. They can learn a number of skills that can benefit them both inside and outside of the classroom.

ACT suggests that high school students complete two years in the same foreign language; for example, Spanish I and Spanish II. Many colleges include foreign language credits as part of their admission requirements. Contrary to some students' beliefs, studying a foreign language isn't just another hoop they have to jump through to get into college. It shows the college that they have skills necessary for academic success.


Foreign language study has been shown to increase students' academic skills in other areas. For example, by learning the grammatical rules of another language, students often learn more about the structure of their own languages. Studying other languages also enhances students' skills in problem solving, oral communication and cross-cultural understanding. In fact, a recent study found that students who completed a foreign language course in high school, no matter what their ability levels in that language, had higher scores on the ACT assessments in English and mathematics.

Students can learn several important cultural skills by studying other languages. In a nation that is becoming more and more ethnically diverse, understanding other cultures is very important. This understanding can be tremendously valuable as students attend college. For many, college will be their first experience in living and working with people from other backgrounds. Having examined another culture through the study of a foreign language can help students succeed in their new environment.

Studying foreign languages also helps students gain a competitive edge in the increasingly diverse global work force. In a world where technology is making the farthest reaches of the world seem like next door, the ability to communicate in other languages is becoming more vital to our success in business. Students who become fluent in foreign languages have more doors open to them in a number of careers, including:

  • U.S. businesses dealing with international clients

  • Foreign companies doing business in the United States

  • Teaching

  • Medicine and scientific research

  • Federal, state and local government agencies

  • Engineering and technology

  • Travel and hospitality industries

As an added bonus, many positions requiring bilingual employees pay significantly higher salaries.

My friend's son decided to take Spanish. He also discovered that several internships were available for structural engineers in Latin American countries. He's even joined Spanish Club.

Rose Rennekamp is the vice president of communications for ACT. Have a question you want answered in a future column? Send e-mail to Rose at

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