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Foreign Language Requirements

  1. Aug 6, 2010 #1
    I'm a semester away from transfering into a large university as a junior. I never took a language course in highschool and my state requires 2 semesters of one as part of a 4 year degree.

    I signed up for Spanish I next semester at my local cc, but I am having doubts as to whether or not this is the language I should go with. I realize that 2 semesters will realistically give me no grasp on the language (outside of being able to ask where the restroom is), but I am wondering if I should take a more globally-popular language, such as Mandarin?

    I do plan to work towards a PhD if that makes any difference. I imagine choice of language would have little to do with grad school acceptance?

    What language would be beneficial for a budding physics grad? (Latin will not meet these reqs)
    If you were required to do this, what language did you choose? Why?

  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 6, 2010 #2
    I think it depends where you live really.. If you live in American, I'd go with Spanish. If you live in Canada, I'd go with French. In Europe I'd go with German, French, Russian, etc.

    Good luck.
  4. Aug 7, 2010 #3
    a. english is the first language for most sciences.
    b. part of it depends on where you want to go/who you meet. It doesn't matter if a lot of great research is done in german or russian. if all your colleagues are japanese, you would probably be best to speak japanese!
    c. you're right that you won't be able to understand anything if you just take 1 year of language. i would consider 2 years (with some type of immersion) or 3 years of university level if you plan on communicating semi-fluently with someone in that language.

    part of it depends on how much effort you're willing to invest into learn a language. I believe romance languages have similar sentence structures to english, so if you learn nouns and verbs, you can string together sentences that people will understand. proper conjugation and more complex sentence types can come later.
  5. Aug 7, 2010 #4


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    Eh, that depends on how good of a learner you are, and how well the class is taught. After taking 2 semesters of German my freshman year I was able to go to Munich for a month and get along fine (not just because everyone in Germany seems to speak English!), and I wasn't even close to being the best student in the class.

    I don't think there's any one particular language that will make a career in physics easier, more than any other (given that you already know English). And of course, attending grad school for physics in an English-speaking country only really requires that you know English. Some grad schools might require that you took some foreign language, any one, but that's just because they want "worldly" students, not because you'll actually need to use another language in day-to-day work.

    Maybe think about where you see yourself working in the future...
  6. Aug 7, 2010 #5
    Well, the courses are a requirement in my state. This is more of a marketability choice. Naturally if I stay in the U.S.A, Spanish is the wise choice, but I was wondering what would be more marketable on a global scale (I imagine that would be Chinese)? I really only want to take the minimum course work as I feel language is something that can be learned without expending college credits, I'm actually a bit frustrated I cannot simply take a placement test in a language to cover this requirement.

    This doesn't have to relate to Physics/Maths/Engineering specifically, just in general?
  7. Aug 7, 2010 #6
    I think this has already been discussed here. Twofish-quant argued mandarin wasn't a good language for a Physicist, and I agree with him - China is growing, but it will be the chinese who will learn English, not the vice-versa. Besides, there's no way you learn mandarin in a reasonable depth in only two semesters. It's a hard language to learn, if English is your first language.

    If you plan to pursuit a research career, I wouldn't recommend Spanish either - even if you live close to a spanish-speaking country. Latin america has a growing scientific production, but it's far far less representative than French or German research. Spain has some scientific production, but not representative either.

    (I mean no offense to people in Latin America - I was born and currently live in an latin america country. I can tell that even the best university for Physics in my country doesn't produce significantly - although there are many foreign researchers in there. Unless you specifically plan to work in some university located in an spanish-speaking area, I wouldn't take it)

    Since this seems the first foreign language you are learning, go for something closer to English and perhaps more useful - I'd say French or German.
  8. Aug 7, 2010 #7
    Mandarin is good for economics...
  9. Aug 7, 2010 #8
    Well my city (state actually) has an increasingly large population of spanish speakers. My biggest concern is that without real communication with native speakers, I will never really grasp the language as much as I would like. Spanish seems to be ideal for this situation. I can go into a resturaunt in the area and get some practice, assuming people do not find it offensive for me to try communicating in their language.

    I think I made the right choice here. It's probably the easiest language to learn (given my geographical location), and will satisfy my requirements. There is always time to learn other (harder) languages when I am less studious. I would not want to take a course that has little benefit to me educationally, and have it cut into the time I spend studying for the difficult ones.

    Thanks alot guys. I think this [a harder language] is something that I will persue when I have the time to take it seriously.
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