What language should a future physicist study in college?

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Many colleges require that all students learn a foreign language, but I have no idea which one I would want to study. Right now I don't know which area of physics I want to go into, or where I want to live. I suppose that if I stay in the U.S. it doesn't really matter which foreign language I learn. But what if I end up in, say, Europe? Which language would be most useful for a physicist there?

Thanks in advance for your advice. :)
 

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  • #2
fss
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Take the bare minimum of language classes required and then take more physics classes. English is the language of physics.
 
  • #3
Take the bare minimum of language classes required and then take more physics classes. English is the language of physics.

I fully agree with the above statement. Basically, as long as you speak English, you should be alright. If you can, however, pick up other languages on the way, then good for you. You don't need mastery of a language, just an understanding of it.
 
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I should clarify a bit. I really don't want to do the bare minimum in any area. I definitely want to learn a foreign language, I just don't know which one. I was thinking I should probably go with French or German, right?
 
  • #5
I like Serena
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I should clarify a bit. I really don't want to do the bare minimum in any area. I definitely want to learn a foreign language, I just don't know which one. I was thinking I should probably go with French or German, right?

What about Chinese?

Physicists come from all over the world nowadays.
So any language of a developed country is conceivably useful.
So French, German, Spanish, Russian are logical choices.
What I find interesting is that in China they have a quarter of the world population. There's bound to be many very smart people there, and China is definitely on the rise.

Note that any physicist that I've met (I'm from the Netherlands), speaks English fluently.

[edit]Now that I think of it, I've met a number of physicists from eastern Europe. A number of them only spoke Russian and German (next to their native language).[/edit]
 
  • #6
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Just pick the language that sounds coolest to you, because picking any of those two isn't going to give you significant advantage over the other. Scratch that, it might, but you can't really predict which one that will be, because you don't know in what situation you'll find yourself. If you'll move to the French countryside in thirty years, then obviously French is the way to go.

As far as science is concerned, my personal impression is that there's better stuff going on in German speaking countries, but on the other hand, Germans and Austrians are far from being terrible at English (which cannot be said of the French), so it'll be easier to communicate with them. But like people have mentioned, everything seems to be done in English anyway these days, and you also have to consider the fact that people in mainland Europe actually learn foreign languages in high school, so they're less ignorant than what you're used to :biggrin:

Anyway, you could also consider Spanish, there's a lot of people in the world that speak it, and it seems like a fun language. Also, Japanese and Chinese would be a great option.
 
  • #7
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If you must, I would say:

German
Russian
French
Chinese
Japanese
Spanish (lots of good Latin American physicist out there!)

If you can master German or Russian, you'll get the benefit of being able to read classic physics and math textbooks and papers in their native language. While I am sure little is lost in translation, sometime the way people use language gives you an idea of how they think about things.

Learning a foreign language isn't useless, and if your into it, why not? Always good to be well balanced. Ive met far too many math and (especially) physics majors (though certainly not all) at school who are all physical science and have ZERO knowledge of social sciences and humanities.

They are very talented at what they do (science) but cannot write or interact socially with people at all! Learning a foreign language is a great way to expand your world view and to become better balanced. Go for it!
 
  • #8
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If you can master German or Russian, you'll get the benefit of being able to read classic physics and math textbooks and papers in their native language. While I am sure little is lost in translation, sometime the way people use language gives you an idea of how they think about things.

In the study of mathematics, I had a couple of books in German.
The reason being that these works had simply never been translated in English!
It seems that the books in English were more about application than fundamental theories.

Knowing that many revolutionary scientists came from German speaking countries (Einstein, Heisenberg, Planck, ...), German might be an interesting choice if you're into fundamental theories.
 
  • #9
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Thanks for your advice, everyone! I think I'm going to go with German.
 
  • #10
symbolipoint
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I should clarify a bit. I really don't want to do the bare minimum in any area. I definitely want to learn a foreign language, I just don't know which one. I was thinking I should probably go with French or German, right?

Why French? Why German? Why French or German? Any human language would be great to learn. Which one or ones would you LIKE TO LEARN?
 

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