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Best foreign language to learn for a physicist

  1. Jul 27, 2014 #1
    Hi everyone. I know this question might have been asked many times, but still I would like to get some advice. I'm going to study physics in the UK as undergrad, and right now am interested in getting a PhD after graduation (I'm still open to any options including the US, the UK or in Europe). I would like to know which language (Spanish, French or German) will help me most in future (PhD, postdoc, working in industry, etc)?

    thanks
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 27, 2014 #2

    Maylis

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    Probably English. Since you apparently already know English, you can focus on physics instead of learning a new language! Maybe a programming language would be more worth your time if you were compelled to learn a new language
     
  4. Jul 27, 2014 #3

    symbolipoint

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    Depends on reason for the language. The choice of required languages many years ago for certain physical science graduates was French, German, or Russian. What does your program requirement specify? Otherwise, nearly any language is great to learn. What do you want and what do you feel?
     
    Last edited: Jul 28, 2014
  5. Jul 28, 2014 #4
    Actually, I am not required to learn any foreign language, but I have always wanted to learn a foreign language in uni. I'm most interested in Spanish, German and French, so in order to make a better decision I'm asking it here as future career prospect (particularly in the science field) is one of the factors considered.

    thanks
     
  6. Jul 28, 2014 #5

    symbolipoint

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    That is then what you feel. Now, figure out why? Also think logically what you gain from each choice. What reasons can you find which support choosing each language? Which seem best to you? You answer those questions, because you are the one who needs to make YOUR choice.
     
  7. Jul 30, 2014 #6
    Mandarin :smile:
     
  8. Jul 30, 2014 #7

    Chronos

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    When I was an undergrad, the big 3 were English, German and French. Of course that was back around the time the plague was sweeping across Europe and gasoline was 15 cents a gallon. I chose German because it is one of the easiest to learn, uses the Latin alphabet instead of hieroglyphs, and, unlike French, you need not remember if a car is a he or a she. In the modern era, language choices tend to be much broader. The school where you complete your degree will, of course, define the specifics.
     
  9. Jul 30, 2014 #8
    Yes, by sheer numbers, I agree. And I don't know about physics departments, but I am seeing a lot more Mandarin speaking mathematicians and math students these days.

    -Dave K
     
  10. Jul 31, 2014 #9
    In fact, Chinese is my first language, so I don't have to learn it. It seems to me that the research in Germany and Switzerland is a bit 'better' than those in French, but people say that German speaks better English than French, so the need to learn German in order to communicate with them is lower. Is it true?
     
  11. Jul 31, 2014 #10
    For academic research alone there is almost no need to learn, say German, to work in Germany. Only slight exception is that at all levels above masters student you have to do some teaching in Germany, and the english-speaking courses tend to be overcrowded with tutors (because of all the people who do not speak German). But that would not be your problem anyways, but that of the faculty. You should probably learn the language of the country you live in, but that is another story. And there is no need to plan ahead, unless you already know which country you want to go later (in which case you would not have asked your question ..).

    For employment outside of academia things look very different. Almost all positions I know require at least a very good knowledge of German (to stay in the example of Germany, which is what I know most about). It is always sad to see that good people who just finished their PhD and want to stay in Germany don't get a job because of insufficient knowledge of the language - and eventually have to go for the post-doc option and/or leave the country. The same should hold true for almost every other country. If you want to make a probabilistic approach to this issue, then German is currently your best bet, since German economy has been stronger in the past years than French or Spanish.

    That said, my personal recommendation would be: Go for Spanish. Very wide-spread language, spoken in a lot of interesting countries. That recommendation comes from the optimization goal "having an interesting life" (which in my case includes backpacking hollidays), not "optimizing career", though.
     
  12. Jul 31, 2014 #11
    Wonderful! By sheer numbers, Spanish wins, though as pointed out, there is not so much an academic need for learning many languages any more. But between English, Chinese and Spanish, you can really open up your network of people. I'd say this is still advantageous in a career sense.
     
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