Physics with proficiency in French - How useful are foreign languages?

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"Physics with proficiency in French" - How useful are foreign languages?

Hello all

In a month I will be starting a Physics degree at the University of Sussex in the UK (MPhys Physics with research placement). This is a four year undergraduate course incorporating three 8 week paid research internship placements over each summer, mostly with university groups. Since this is a UK university, there is no requirement to take general education courses.

As of this year, the university has begun a scheme where by taking 4 language electives (15 credits each over two years) one can get their degree to read "with proficiency in *language*. The language offered that most appeals to me is French, both for its relative usefulness in Physics (France/French speaking places are the homes of many international physics experiments) and its more general use in business. Also, I like holidays in France :P.

I've got a GCSE grade A in french right now (probably could have gotten A* though if it weren't for a flunked exam) and my french is pretty decent so I reckon I'm up to it in that sense. According to their site, I should start on level 3, working through 4,5 and finishing on 6, which will apparently give me a level of french equivalent to a UK undergraduate at the end of first year.

My real question is, is it worth "using up" all those elective slots on French when I could spend them on Physics/Maths courses? I could drop out of the course after each term and keep the credits earned, but I wouldn't get to add "with proficiency in French" to my degree title. Of course, I could still write on a CV "good knowledge of French". AFAIK, I only get one elective slot each term in first year.

An alternative would be to take the courses as open, casual courses. They wouldn't count for credit, which could be a blessing or a curse depending on my results. I would instead get a certificate at the end. It would also cost £190 per course.

This is a link to the programme: http://www.sussex.ac.uk/languages/ml/languageproficiency [Broken]

tl;dr: is it a waste to spend 4*15 credits on language modules when I could spend them on Physics or Maths?
 
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  • #2
fss
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tl;dr: is it a waste to spend 4*15 credits on language modules when I could spend them on Physics or Maths?
Yes.
 
  • #3
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Firstly 'MPhys with Research Placements' sounds like an amazing course because of all the research placements that get handed to you! If you end up wanting to do research at PhD level that experience will put you in a really good position.

But, onto the question, how are the language courses placed throughout the year? Is it one per semester? Because that doesn't sound too bad. You'll meet interesting and different people from what you would on your physics course. It'll certainly widen your options in the future, especially if you get a qualification. What you need to think about is, what courses might you miss out on? Are these important?

I tried taking an intermediate level Spanish course on top of my other studies (non-credit). I couldn't deal with the extra work load and intensive style so dropped out after one week. I wouldn't advise trying to do it 'casually'.
 
  • #4
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What you need to think about is, what courses might you miss out on? Are these important?
This. If the courses you will be missing are just elective courses you would take out of interest then it doesn't matter a whole lot. If they are core courses then it is a bit different.

That said, learning a language I think is a really really great skill to have. It also shows that you are a bit more multifaceted in things other than just math and physics. I strongly recommend you pursue learning another language. If you learn a language, and remember to practice it once and a while, it will be something you will have for the rest of your life.

I can tell you what I am doing this year, don't know if it will apply to you or not. Basically, I am finishing my last year taking all the necessary physics/math courses I need to graduate. I am also going to take an extra credit German course on top of this, extra credit meaning that the class doesn't count towards my graduation/GPA. This way I can take the course without affecting what other courses I have to take.
 
  • #5
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It depends what you want from it. I am currently about to start a PhD in Zurich. I have no knowledge of German, and the department knew this when they hired me. A language won't help you be more employable in the field of Physics, as almost everyone speaks English. If, on the other hand, you would like to do it because its a personal goal of yours, then you should take the opportunity if the course allows you to. It will help out your CV if you eventually decide to take a job in a company.
 
  • #6


tl;dr: is it a waste to spend 4*15 credits on language modules when I could spend them on Physics or Maths?
Why not just audit the courses and/or learn on your own? Like you said, you can put "Je parle Français trés bien" on your CV, and if an employer really cares, they'll happily evaluate your proficiency during the interview process.
 
  • #7
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Thanks all for the input, I think that my best course of action would be wait until I've found out what courses I would be missing (I can't get the info at the moment because the curriculum is under review) and see which is more interesting or important. I'll probably discuss it with my study advisor (or whatever they're called) if I get a chance.

It would just be one course per semester with 3 hours of contact time per week, though they expect you to do 8-10 hours of work per week outside of that. I think most courses are supposed to take about that much time so I hope it's bearable in that sense.
 
  • #8
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Personally I wouldn't bother with languages other than English. It is the language the world speaks formally and time spent learning other second-rate languages is time better spent learning math and science.
 
  • #9
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Personally I wouldn't bother with languages other than English. It is the language the world speaks formally and time spent learning other second-rate languages is time better spent learning math and science.
Couldn't be more wrong. Also, other languages are not second-rate languages.

If you ever want to live in a country that doesn't use English as its first language it would do you very very well to learn the language they speak. It will make your life living in that country much easier and more enjoyable. It allows you to meet people who you would otherwise never be able to communicate with. You can often get by in a country without a language, but that's just it, you will just be "getting by".

A language will most likely not help you get employed, so don't worry about that.
 
  • #10
fss
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Couldn't be more wrong. Also, other languages are not second-rate languages.

If you ever want to live in a country that doesn't use English as its first language it would do you very very well to learn the language they speak. It will make your life living in that country much easier and more enjoyable. It allows you to meet people who you would otherwise never be able to communicate with. You can often get by in a country without a language, but that's just it, you will just be "getting by".

A language will most likely not help you get employed, so don't worry about that.
That was not the question that was asked. In physics there is no professional advantage in knowing French at the expense of physics courses.
 
  • #11
turbo
Gold Member
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Personally, I would concentrate on German. I have been out of hunt for a long time, so there might be better options (like Mandarin) these days.
 
  • #12
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That was not the question that was asked. In physics there is no professional advantage in knowing French at the expense of physics courses.
Unless those physics/math courses are accessory/specialized physics courses. If you already are taking all the core courses, then taking specialized physics/math courses over language courses may not actually be advantageous.

It depends a lot on what courses specifically you will need for your future. For me (being more of an experimentalist/engineer), math courses are purely extra, and I would much prefer, and get much more use out of, taking a language course. That said, if you want to pursue theory, then a solid math background is necessary and may overrule the language course.
 
  • #13
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Couldn't be more wrong. Also, other languages are not second-rate languages.

If you ever want to live in a country that doesn't use English as its first language it would do you very very well to learn the language they speak. It will make your life living in that country much easier and more enjoyable. It allows you to meet people who you would otherwise never be able to communicate with. You can often get by in a country without a language, but that's just it, you will just be "getting by".

A language will most likely not help you get employed, so don't worry about that.
Yes they are. English is the best language, without a doubt. If a country's first language isn't English, it probably isn't worth living in anyway. Once most countries get up to speed, they will start speaking English. Hopefully one day English is the only language humans speak.
 
  • #14
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Yes they are. English is the best language, without a doubt. If a country's first language isn't English, it probably isn't worth living in anyway. Once most countries get up to speed, they will start speaking English. Hopefully one day English is the only language humans speak.
Can't tell if you are just trolling or extremely arrogant.

Countries that don't speak English are definitely worth living in. Often times I consider it a lot more enjoyable than living in some native English countries. Germany for instance, is a pretty fun place to live in, and is many ways ahead of English speaking countries.
 
  • #15
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Foreign languages are extremely useful for those who are more industrially oriented or want to broaden their mind. Ignore those who say "take more math and science". Its just 4 classes, it doesn't affect your core. Its a global marketplace, and your boss might not be a native English speaker. If I was a manager at STMicro, and I saw that someone took French over something like general relativity or particle astrophysics, guess who I'm going to be hiring?

Even for grad school purposes, seriously... a few extra elective classes doesn't matter.
 
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