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Language for a theoretical physicist

  1. Aug 25, 2010 #1

    I am an undergrad majoring in Physics. I want to be a theoretical physicist. What language would help me more (in any way)? German or Chinese?

  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 26, 2010 #2
    Well I'm in the same position as you. I'm half way through a physics undergrad and beginning to take an interest in theory. The last thing I have considered is which languages I should learn.

    But I suppose German wouldn't be a bad choice, a lot of modern physics was originally done in German so it might be nice if you wanted to read the original papers. I think Chinese would be more useful for an engineer who worked in Asia a lot, but even then nearly any Chinese person you would work with professionally would speak English anyways.

    To me it seems that most critical communications in theoretical physics would be done with equations and diagrams, so I think math would be the language you would want to learn best.

    But these days, in nearly every industry, English is going to be the one most people understand.
  4. Aug 26, 2010 #3
    The best one will be the one that interests you and you can do well in so as to not drop your grades. Only partially joking, I'd consider C++ as your language.
  5. Aug 26, 2010 #4
    Bad advice. It's good thing for you to study hard things *even if* it causes your grades to go down slightly (i.e. you get B's rather than A's). One of the better life decisions I made was to study things that had nothing to do with physics, but which I was just interested in.

    The bad part about this was that I didn't get into the graduate schools that I wanted to get into, *BUT* studying economic history of late 19th century Europe was really useful after graduate school.

    I think Chinese is more useful than German, but I'd pick some odd language like Arabic or Swahilli.
  6. Aug 26, 2010 #5
    Will that be true in 30 years?
  7. Aug 26, 2010 #6


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    You can learn a new language in the meantime :P

    It surprises me that people don't seem to consider that you can learn languages on your off time, outside of a classroom. That's how most language is learned ;)
  8. Aug 26, 2010 #7
    theoretical physicist

    Im new to college and Im majoring in Physics, how would i go about getting a degree in theoretical physics
  9. Aug 28, 2010 #8
    Ok, I could've clarified a bit more. I'll try again.

    B's from A's, sure thats fine. However, language courses require a large amount of time (both in class and out) and could take away from other studies. I agree 100% that one should take courses one is interested in, and I stated that in my original post, at least from a language course point of view which this thread is about.

    So, to the OP, I'd say pick whatever language is most interesting to you and try it for a semester. In my opinion, I'd go with Chinese because it would set you apart from others just because of the difficulty alone.
  10. Aug 28, 2010 #9
    I would second German.
    For physics mainly, German is way more relevant. Other than the old historical papers that were published in German, there are many awesome German Physics books.
    The language is also used in Austria & parts of Switzerland.
    I think it would also take less time to learn than Chinese (i.e. to get to an intermediate level).
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