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Undergraduate Foreign Language Requirement

  1. Sep 4, 2010 #1

    I'm getting my B.S. in Physics at a liberal arts college. One of my graduation requirements is two semesters of a foreign language.

    I wanted some advice about what languages are particularly useful to career physicists. Here are some ideas I've had.

    Latin- useful for science terminology
    Greek- useful for learning the Greek alphabet
    Chinese or Japanese- useful for overseas collaborations
    French or German- also useful for over overseas collaborations, also useful for reading original historic papers.

    I've also considered the philosophical aspects of learning a second language. Languages shape people's notions about how objects interact in time and space. In this case I would prefer a language very different from English, like Arabic or Chinese.

    Any thoughts?

    Thank you.
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 4, 2010 #2


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    The Greek alphabet will take you 10 minutes to learn. You do not need to study Greek for that. Latin is a dead language; you don't need the roots to study physics. The two languages I wish I had studied were German (because I do a lot of work with collaborators at the Max Planck Institute and visit about once a year) and Spanish (I spend a few months a year in South America running telescopes). I was advised to take Russian, and I did, but it has never come in useful.

    Keep in mind one year of a foreign language will not allow you to read in that language more than very simple things (certainly not papers). It will get you up to the point where you can carry on simple conversations, read a menu, hail a taxi, book a hotel room, and ask where the bathroom is.
  4. Sep 4, 2010 #3
    At my school greek/latin cannot be used to satisfy this requirement. You might want to double check at your institution.

    I asked thie question here before, and was given helpful advice. It really is dependant on where you live, and where you plan on working. Perhaps you can be a bit more specific?
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