Written by Maggie Chadwick.
Graphic by Peyton Cabaniss.
The culture of the United States is dominant and widespread. It permeates into other countries to the effect that, in many places with distinct languages, histories, and customs, you can watch mainstream American TV shows, American movies, and listen to American songs. Since American culture is so universal, it only makes sense that the language Americans speak is just as prevalent. English is the most used language on the Internet, despite the fact that the world’s most spoken native language is Mandarin. Many schools in Eurasia teach students English, in addition to their own country’s tongue, until they reach proficiency. In fact, English has become a worldwide lingua franca — the language people use as “common ground” (for example: a German-speaker and a Portuguese-speaker will most likely use English to speak to one another).
While the concept of having a common language to unite people is incredible, there are some negative repercussions. Because so many people are focused on speaking English, has America fallen behind in learning other languages?
Studies have shown that learning a second language can improve cognitive and social abilities, as well as methods of self-expression. In addition to these benefits, learning a second language can give insights into its respective culture, providing a lens into another perspective for many people who have only known one way of life. The ability to connect with someone in their native tongue is priceless. Therefore, experiences like these are valuable and only come with learning another vernacular.
Many people are interested in learning another language, but have no idea where to start. It’s true that many programs are too expensive or ineffectual. Fortunately, at the University of Texas at Austin, there are many resources available to students for studying new languages.
One of the more rigorous options is taking formal language courses. Not only can you take classes like Spanish, Arabic, and German, but also ASL through the Department of Linguistics and Indigenous languages through the Native American Indigenous Studies program. There are certificates and minors offered in several linguistic areas that can enrich an education for a future in engineering, medicine, law, teaching, as well as Liberal Arts majors.
UT hosts several study abroad programs to help students develop mastery in a language. These once-in-a-lifetime opportunities can provide an immersive language experience, in a program designed to help one truly reach proficiency. Additionally, there are scholarships and grants available to students in search of financial funding. Similar to engineering and business programs, students studying a foreign language also have access to unique internship opportunities. For example, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) offers several paid summer internships to undergraduate students studying multiple languages and cultures.
Learning a second language paves the way for many rare opportunities.
If taking formal classes isn’t your cup of tea, UT grants access to Open Educational Resources for languages online. On this website, there are study materials for some of the most world’s widely-spoken languages, with provided access to many free or inexpensive resources. There are textbooks, videos, podcasts, and several other methods for learning vocabulary, grammar, and culture at your own pace. More information on all of UT’s language learning opportunities can be found here: https://liberalarts.utexas.edu/languages/
It’s vital that America starts recognizing the importance of learning additional languages. Many other countries have already caught on to this reality, so it’s time the United States catches up, too. Here at UT, there are several resources available to students interested in enriching their lives and investing in themselves by learning another tongue. I urge students to use their time here wisely, and if possible, find a language to explore!