1. Limited time only! Sign up for a free 30min personal tutor trial with Chegg Tutors
    Dismiss Notice
Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Best Foreign Language For A Physics Student

  1. Jun 4, 2009 #1
    I'm a physics student and need to get my foreign language proficiency requirement out of the way. I have been considering French, Russian, or German, but just cannot decide. French and Russian strike me as beautiful when spoken and all three languages have rich histories. Which of these three languages would be most useful or marketable?

    Any experiences studying your favourite language is always valued :)
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 4, 2009 #2


    User Avatar
    Homework Helper

    Spanish is highly recommended just for the fun of it. hehe
  4. Jun 4, 2009 #3
    I took some spanish about 5 years ago, hated it >.<
  5. Jun 4, 2009 #4


    User Avatar

    I took 5 years of Russian. It's a cool language, but frankly it's never come in useful. I'm finishing my PhD in physics (astrophysics). The languages I should have learned - and am just now starting to learn - were German and Spanish. German because of all the time I spend over there with collaborators (and hope to get a postdoc offer from them) and Spanish because of all the time I spend down in South America at telescopes.
  6. Jun 4, 2009 #5


    User Avatar
    Homework Helper
    Education Advisor
    Gold Member

    About choosing the language to study, what do your impulses tell you? Are you limited to choice only among French, German, or Russian? Is any significant work in Physics done or written in any of those ? (Obviously, YES). They are all great languages, as are others. A language's perceived difficulty is unimportant. German is not a difficult language to learn; Russian may not be difficult by having 'more letters' to learn, aside from being more phoneticly consistant than English.

    Here are some useful hints to inspire you, maybe:
    French is widespread, not in all places, but in many places. Being Latin related, it has contributed some vocabulary to English, so this will help to understand and appreciate English a bit better. It may help you in on-the-spot crossover communication with other Latin related languages, although very different from them (meaning still not mutually intelligible, but sometimes helpful anyway).
    German can help you understand more about the structure and origin of English. English is a Germanic language. Not as widespread, but why let this be an obstacle?
    Russian is known, spoken in a big region, otherwise not so widespread; also, has similarities to other well known languages in neighboring regions, making learning any of them possibly easier after learning Russian for a few years. Russian is not so similar to English, but really, why should this be an obstacle? So many million people already know Russian as their first or second language - why fear it if they could do it?

    Why are you in a hurry to get your language requirement "out of the way"? Being able to communicate using someone else's language is a good thing, and not so tough to learn. You have already been studying harder with Physics, Engineering, and Mathematics than you will need to study for a foreign language; German, French, Russian are maybe complicated, but by being a part of human natural language, they are easier to learn (if taught well) than what you have been struggling with during your last few years.
  7. Jun 4, 2009 #6
    Thank you for the advice, but perhaps my phrasing was off. I love languages, all of them, and that's what makes it so hard to choose :(
  8. Jun 5, 2009 #7
    A lot of physics literature is in German and Russian, or at least such is my understanding.
  9. Jun 5, 2009 #8


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Not any more, there are a few journals that are written in German and Russian but no one would publish anything important in them. The Russians switched to English in the late 80s but even articles published before that are almost always available as translations (in JETP etc).
    Hence, there is no reason to learn another language just to be able to read journals etc. However, if you are planning to work in e.g. Germany learning the language might be a good idea.
    The only "important" country (in terms of research) where you actually NEED to know the local language in order to live/work for any longer period of time is Japan; from what I understand from collgues who have worked there it is very difficult if you don't speak Japanese.
  10. Jun 8, 2009 #9
    I guess the best thing would be to have fun with it then.
  11. Jun 9, 2009 #10
    I think so too. I mean, almost every scientific publication that has any relevance today is being written (also) in english. Only if you're interested in some specific field and know that some country has particularly good reputation in that field (and you could possibly visit that country for a longer time), then it could be a small hint.
    My personal choice would be probably French (or German). Russian probably not, because I wouldn't like to live in that country, but everyone has different prefferences :-).
  12. Jun 9, 2009 #11
    It really doesn't matter. Which class has the reputation of being most fun/has best teacher/is easiest to pass. (Last requirement is the most important!)
  13. Apr 4, 2010 #12
    I hope this is true for Chinese too, but don't China and Japan push their students to learn english? So there's no need to learn Chinese/Japanese . . ? I might be wrong, but were your colleagues physicist master/Phd? (I'm considering learning Chinese to work in multinational nuclear fusion projects, but don't know if it'll be useful.)
  14. Apr 4, 2010 #13
    grab French to read Voltaire, Sartre, and Camus.

    grab Russian to read Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, and Turgenev.

    grab German to read Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud.

    Whichever list you liked better, that one will help you more in your physics. After all, you need a sharp, lithe mind to do physics. What better way to create such a thing than reading the greats in the original (besides problem sets of course haha)?
  15. Apr 4, 2010 #14
    It just seems like a physics language...and besides, the college I wanna go to encourages German. I guess so many people can speak Spanish that they have plenty of them.
    And French makes you sound like a pedophile, but German makes you sound like a pissed off smart person.

    Ich liebe Deutsch so sehr. Ha, es ist gut. Aber, vielleicht nicht für dich. :wink:
  16. Apr 5, 2010 #15
    Non non, francais, c'est le langue d'amour. Plus de femme...oui oui!
  17. Apr 5, 2010 #16
    Und homosexuell Männer. :P
    Just saying.
  18. Apr 5, 2010 #17
    Ja, ja. Deutsch ist sehr gut. Es ist sehr nah zu Englisch.

    I am currently taking German, as a first year physics student. It is quite close to English, but you really have to try it out to see if you like it.
  19. Apr 6, 2010 #18
    Actually, it's not. :P That would be the whole point of a foreign language.
    Never mind that English is a Germanic language.
    German's kinda hard, but I bet it will pay off for you in the end.
  20. Apr 6, 2010 #19
    I'd learn Greek, just for practice in writing those silly Greek letters I've had to learn on the fly.
  21. Apr 6, 2010 #20
    I'd pick the language that is most exotic to me. I enjoy learning the most when the concepts are new and interesting, and it is crucial that you should enjoy studying the language you choose.

    So of the three listed I'd pick Russian without doubt. But I am a native American English speaker. What is exotic to you surely depends on your language background.
  22. Apr 6, 2010 #21
    Well, in my mind it is one of the easiest languages to learn, including Eastern languages. English and German differ in grammar, but it is not difficult to pick up, and they overlap a lot in vocabulary. I would say the hardest part of the language is memorizing the genders; male, female and neutral, of nouns.
  23. Apr 6, 2010 #22

    Char. Limit

    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Actually, English and German don't even differ too much in grammar....

    And German would be useful. Eigenstates, the E/Z Rule, and the fact that a great many of the past physicists were either German or English - speaking...
  24. Apr 6, 2010 #23
    Well, according to the forum rules, all posts have to be in English
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook