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Homework Help: Foreign Language and Physics/Chemistry Majors:

  1. Sep 5, 2004 #1


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    How important are foreign languages when you are pursuing physics or chemistry? The centers of research are all in English speaking countries (U.S., England) and any foreign students must learn English proficiently to survive in their new countries. So naturally, I wouldn't need to learn any foreign languages when pursuing physics. But due to the requirements of the International Baccalaureate, I'm pursuing French as a foreign language. Is French still useful for physics now that the centers of research have moved to the US? French could be useful at CERN though.. But then, I have to go to CERN and I also wonder what the defaulto language at CERN is.. Hmm..

    Also, I'm Chinese and my parents want me to learn Chinese (I dropped out of Chinese school long ago, forgetting most of the Chinese I learned). However, I would much prefer Calculus to Chinese, especially since Chinese foreign students must learn English as well. Yeah, Chinese could give me an advantage when communicating with foreign students. But it isn't as important as learning Calculus or doing physics in my spare time. Should I just abide by the expectations of my parents and learn Chinese? and btw my parents are the opposite of stereotypical Chinese parents.

    Also, how important is being well-rounded in physics? Feynman didn't need to be while he was pursuing research under John WHeeler and then on the Manhatten Project(yeah, he became well-rounded later but just for fun). But I have enough fun with mathematics and pranks. To me, the only important skills are reading scientific articles, writing, math, and science; who cares if I can't read Tolstoy; I'm autist anyways.

    SO what are your thoughts on learning foreign languages and being well-rounded to prospective physicists and chemists? (and I'll have to be somewhat well-rounded since I'm pursuing the International Baccalaureate but if I drop it in favor of taking all three sciences in the same year, the IB coordinator will murder me).
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  3. Sep 5, 2004 #2
    Hi, I'm in the Advanced placement program. I'm just wondering, is there a difference in the difficulty between IB and AP. I'm not taking any foreign languages, but I am taking all 3 sciences, english and calculus this school year.

    As to your question about taking chinese, If you're planning to work in China, or possibly in cities with lots of Orientals, you should, otherwise I wouldn't if i was in your place. As well, I myself am Chinese too.
    Last edited: Sep 5, 2004
  4. Sep 6, 2004 #3


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    It's always good to be as well-rounded as possible in your education, it helps you talk to people outside your major. Germany has always produced a lot of strong chemists, so German would be a good language to learn if you go into chemistry. But, any language you learn will make it easier for you to visit other countries. Remember if you travel to another country for a scientific convention, you still need to be able to talk to people outside the conference, such as hotel managers, shopkeepers, waiters, taxi drivers, etc. You also never know what you're going to wind up doing in the future. I have a friend who excelled in math and physics (one of those geniuses who started taking college math classes when he was 13 or 14). He spent 3 years working on a physics major, and in his senior year of college, decided he couldn't stand it anymore and started taking linguistics courses. He got his PhD in linguistics. So, it's always good to have options.
  5. Sep 6, 2004 #4
    I'm in IB and have heard that AP is relatively easier when compared to IB. In AP, you take honors classes right? If so, then that is a characteritic common to both programs.

    For foreign languages, I suggest taking the languages which are in abundance in the US or wherever you wish to spend most, if not all of your life.
  6. Sep 6, 2004 #5
    What languages are you able to take SL or HL exams for in WA?
  7. Sep 6, 2004 #6
    Yes we take honors classes. What kind of questions are unique to IB as compared to AP? Perhaps list questions that concern physics, chemistry or math? Don't ask bio or english or anything with foreign languages though.
  8. Sep 6, 2004 #7


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    Back in the old days, there were 3 'international' languages in science: French, German and English. So French would have been a good choice back then. I'm not sure if that is still the case, but, it used to be you had to have 2 years of foreign language to earn a BA, as opposed to a BS, and a BA was a plus if you wanted to get into a good post grad school.
  9. Sep 6, 2004 #8


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    Thanks for the advice, everyone! :)

    IB requires you to take classes in all fields (unless you're aiming for a certificate, which colleges do not want to see since they want you to take the best of what's offered at your school. If you're in AP, you could easily make an excuse for not taking two more years of a foreign language by taking an AP science course to replace that. ANd thus, I can take advanced biology, advanced physics, and advanced chemistry).

    I'm taking four years of French and am going to take the SL exam.

    I also wonder how important history and literature are for science. I know that many scientists were well-cultured (the quark was, after all, named after a word in one of James Joyce's novels). Perhaps I should just join in with the crowd for now.

    Additionally, this is going to impact my college choices. Whether I want to go to the University of Chicago or the Honors program at the University of Washington or not; both of those require students to be well-rounded.
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