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Studying Foreign Language: Is it worth studying in college?

  1. Aug 28, 2008 #1
    I am currently a sophomore in college, studying mathematics and possibly double majoring in physics. So far, I'm thinking of going to grad school in some field (not sure if it's math, physics, or etc).

    Right now, I'm wondering if I should study any foreign language at college. I'm already fluent with Japanese (as I've lived there for 12.5 years), so I'm already bilingual. My math department recommends studying either French, German, or Russian, even though I don't know why they are recommended (I guess a lot of scholar journals are published in these languages?).

    My experience with studying foreign language hasn't been very good; I've taken Spanisih at my high school, and I thought that was somewhat boring (memorizing a lot of vocabularies, understanding some grammar concepts until exams, and forget all of those after the exams) and difficult (an easy A, but never been able to speak it), and therefore, I've seen them as pointless because I realized it's almost impossible to be able to speak/read/write a new language unless if I live in a country that actually speaks that language, or if I practice intensively.

    On the other hand, I do like the sound of becoming trilingual (just for the sake of snobbyness: "Look at me, I can speak 3 languages!":biggrin:), and I am somewhat interested in living in another country besides Japan or U.S. (you know, one of those kids who always want to "see the world"? Talk to some kids who have some experience with studying abroad, and they'll tell how "different cultures" have changed their views). But I'm also wondering if studying another language would benefits me when it comes to getting a job, going to a grad school, or etc.

  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 28, 2008 #2
    I would say learn German or Chinese.
  4. Aug 28, 2008 #3
    I say don't learn anything else. You obviously know english along with japanese, what else is there to know? The school just wants your money. Your time could be better spent learning the language of the universe (math).
  5. Aug 28, 2008 #4
    Every math grad program I've seen requires their students to acquire a "reading knowledge" (i.e. you can read a paper in that language with a dictionary in the other hand) of some plurality of those languages. Sometimes a few others make the list.

    If you're planning on graduate study in mathematics, a year or so of one or more of those might be helpful. Otherwise, I don't see that only a year would give you a respectable degree of fluency - but it could be a fun way to pick up electives.
  6. Aug 28, 2008 #5


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    I hated learning a second language in college (it was required for my degrees). If your program doesn't require it, I personally wouldn't do it. But that's just because I always found it difficult to learn a second language (I have a hard enough time with English!)

    It might benefit you though in the future depending on what jobs you get. Dunno though.

  7. Aug 28, 2008 #6


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    PieceOfPi -
    Absolutely EVERYONE should study and learn another language. Could you be officially permitted to avoid the language requirement based on your knowledge of Japanese? That should be sufficient to satisfy the language requirement for your degree.

    If you had trouble becoming comfortable with the other language, at high school or at college, it was likely because it was not taught properly. A language should not be too stressful to learn. Teaching you rules through English is partly the fault(but not the whole part of the fault). Don't let people tell you that you need to live in a country to become effective in its language. People who tell you this do not know enough about language instruction. They may truely know their language of interest very very well, but they are missing something about knowing language instruction.

    You were recommended to pick German, French, or Russian because many historical and current journal articles are in those languages; but then, these days, (you need to check on this) Japanese has increased in importance for scientific journal articles. Ask your department representative about it.
  8. Aug 28, 2008 #7
    Thanks for all of your responses. And I'm quite surprise that I've got quite a wide range of responses.

    Asphodel- Would it be too late to study one of those languages after I entered graduate school? Or should I study those while I'm in undergrad?

    symbolipoint- Yes, in case if I need to satisfy my foreign language requirement, I can use my Japanese. (BTW, I'm quite interested to hear your opinion about studying foreign language. How can you become effective in foreign language WITHOUT living in another country?)

    More responses are welcome.
  9. Aug 28, 2008 #8
    You can probably test out of the foreign language requirement.
  10. Aug 28, 2008 #9
    It sounds like you are already fluent in a second language, thus there is no need to learn a third, although, the more languages you speak, the better. Even a semester or two of Spanish, French, or German can teach you enough to make a vacation or short stay in those countries much more productive and less frustrating. Russian, Chinese, and other more difficult languages require more of an investment in terms of time, so you might want to think about that.

    I would probably recommend Spanish or French if you want to learn an easy language, because they are widely spoken around the world and two of the easiest languages for English speakers to learn. Then again, if you mastered Japanese, you might be able to learn a similar East Asian language without as much trouble as the rest of us.
  11. Aug 28, 2008 #10
    better spend your time with your girlfriend instead of learning another language.
  12. Aug 28, 2008 #11


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    Do you have any evidence of this? The one reputable japanese journal I know of in my field (http://ptp.ipap.jp/journal/ [Broken]) is published in English (because, if they didn't, who out of Japan would read it?!)
    Last edited by a moderator: May 3, 2017
  13. Aug 28, 2008 #12
    But then I have to get a girlfriend first, and that might be harder than studying Russian:frown:

    On the other hand, studying another language might increase my dating pool!
  14. Aug 28, 2008 #13
    no problem bro! there are soooooo many Slavic beauties waiting for smart guys like you:
    Russian, Ukrainian, Serbian, Bulgarian, Slovak, etc, ah you name it i arrange it:-)
    Good luck
  15. Aug 28, 2008 #14


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    Studying another language won't necessarily translate into more academic opportunities for you in mathematics and physics. It's my understanding that the vast majority of academic journals (although not all) are published in english. And I would recommend against doing just about anything if your only reason is because you think it will look cool on a CV.

    You need a genuine desire to learn another language if you're going to get anything out of studying it. If you have that - great! And it's never too late to start if that's what you want to do.
  16. Aug 28, 2008 #15
    Not at all. But if you're going to math grad school (or at least seriously considering it) and if you need a few electives that language classes would satisfy...it's definitely worth giving some thought to over "Theory of Modern Art" or "Homosexuality in Early English Literature" or something like that. It never hurts to dovetail your goals.
  17. Aug 28, 2008 #16
    Again, thanks for all of your posts.

    As of now, I decided that I won't be taking any foreign language at least for this academic year, since I feel like I have better classes to take (e.g. physics, computer science, and most importantly, math!). However, as Choppy said, if I found that I have that genuine desire to learn another language, I might consider learning that in later academic years.

    Well, actually I'll be learning Java as my programming language, so I guess that and another foreign language might be an overload :)
  18. Aug 28, 2008 #17
    Hmmm, the best time to learn languages is in kindergarten. It get's a bit more difficult in primary school and it is harder still in high school.
  19. Aug 29, 2008 #18
    I am on symbolipoints side on this one. Languages are good in themselves. I remember talking to my father a late autumn evening, he regretted it very much to not have learnt more foreign languages than english properly. And later he just took mother with him and signed up for a spanish class. Now after they retire they plan on living from late august to early may down there in spain.

    There are thousand reasons and arguments for learning an extra foreign language and even an extra language besides english and the first extra language.

    But as I see it, careerwise, is this.

    1. Easier to get ahead, will seem more qualified for having done everything that all applicants have done plus extra languages.

    2. You will get a much much greater work-field. So maybe you only talk english, then hf gl in anglo-saxia. Or spanish, hf gl in south america and spain.

    3. It's impressive in itself, it will get you in higher esteem of the more pretentious of your peers. Pretentious f***s like myself tend to try to achieve the greatest potential we can.

    4. You will have more fun, and more creative input if you can absorb another culture, hopefully it will rub of on your workmates.

    Then there is the personal factor of self-fulfillment, but that's for another board.
  20. Aug 29, 2008 #19


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    they are very useful and enjoyable and they take a long time to learn, so start as soon as possible, preferably in grammar school.
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