Department of Languages and Literatures

Why Study Other Languages

Why study foreign languages? Imagine going to another country and being able to understand a map, talk to a cab driver, or even discuss a poem. Imagine making connections with people across the barriers of language, culture, and history. Imagine the ways your personality and life might change when you meet and communicate with people whose cultural backgrounds differ from yours. Imagine the difference you might make in the lives of others, inside the U.S. and out, who are reaching out across the world to you. Imagine the difference those people might make to you. Many students come to college looking for classes that will help them build successful and interesting careers as teachers, business people, communicators, scientists, etc. Others want to grow intellectually, to change the world, or to change themselves. Language and culture study in the Department of Modern Languages at UNI offers majors, minors, and elective courses that meet all those needs, and language programs in French, German, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, and other languages. Below are resources designed to help you decide what studying another language might do for you.
  • Can I get a job if I major or minor in a language? Of course you can; there’s a list of possibilities here; you might also want to check out books on international jobs or the UNI global opportunities pages.
  • But which language should I study? UNI offers study in Spanish, French, German, Portuguese, Russian, and occasionally other languages. For good reasons to study each of them, look here. For a longer list of reasons to study French in particular, visit the pages of Professor Michael Oates.
  • Are there any books or websites out there to help me find jobs or tell me about international opportunities and programs? Yes, lots and lots of them. You can see them here. Another big list is available on UNI's global opportunities pages.
  • Now that I’m interested, are there any other articles online that I might look at? We’ve put together a list of things we think are interesting, and we’re adding to it as often as we can.
Here are fifteen things studying a new language might do for you. Language study
  1. broadens your experiences; expands your view of the world
  2. encourages critical reflection on the relation of language and culture, language and thought; fosters an understanding of the interrelation of language and human nature
  3. develops your intellect; teaches you how to learn
  4. teaches and encourages respect for other peoples
  5. contributes to cultural awareness and literacy such as knowledge of original texts
  6. builds practical skills (for travel or commerce or as a tool for other disciplines)
  7. improves the knowledge of your own language through comparison and contrast with the foreign language
  8. exposes you to modes of thought outside of your native language
  9. a sense of relevant past, both cultural and linguistic
  10. balances content and skill (rather than content versus skill)
  11. expands opportunities for meaningful leisure activity (travel, reading, viewing foreign language films)
  12. contributes to achievemnet of national goals such as economic development or national security
  13. contributes to the creation of your personality
  14. enables the transfer of training (such as learning a second foreign language)
  15. preserves (or fosters) a country’s image as a cultured nation
The above modified from Alan C. Frantz, "Seventeen Values of Foreign Language Study" (ADFL Bulletin, vol. 28, Nr.1, Fall 1996). Can I get a job if I major or minor in a foreign language? Yes, of course. First of all, almost any job, even in the United States, can benefit from your knowing another language. More and more of the U.S. population speaks languages other than English, and jobs in social services, business, communications, and the government all use people with language skills. Language skills set you apart from other workers, making you a better candidate for promotion and work on new projects. Beyond that, there are a huge number of jobs that absolutely require that you speak a second language. These include working in the Foreign Service, serving a translator and/or interpreter for the Government or the private sector, working at international institutions, the UN, or UNICEF, teaching foreign languages, literatures, and cultures in schools or universities in the U.S. or abroad, and working for transnational bussines corporations. Below you will find a list of the kinds of jobs people who major or minor in a second language have chosen: Social services: social worker, probation officer, criminology and law enforcement, school counselor, drug abuse counselor, occupational health care, income maintenance counselor Business and finance: accountant, administration, human resources director, economist, stockbroker, import-export agent Communications: reporter, journalist, publisher, editor, interpreter, tour guide, public relations, film producer or director, sports agent Science and Technology: Engineer, chemist physicist, anthropologist, archaeologist, geologist, biologist, oceanographer Education: library science, elementary, secondary, and college level teaching in the U.S. and abroad Government: translator, interpreter, law enforcement, diplomatic foreign service, customs official, legal advisor Other jobs include: advertising copywriter, book reviewer, columnist/ commentator, passenger service staff, public relations representative, radio announcer, production manager, technical writer, bilingual educator, Peace Corps volunteer, researcher, world bank, FBI agent, state department or foreign service, and exchange program coordinator. But which language should I study? Like most UNI students who study another language, you too may want to make Spanish your choice. It is, after all, the second language of our nation and the language spoken by principal trading partners with the U.S., but you may also want to study or add a language that will equip you with a dimension that distinguishes you from many others: Or consider French, the language learned by those interested in French Art and History and their integral links to American culture; by those wanting to visit American tourists’ favorite destinations, from Provence to the Alps, from Paris to the wine country; by those wanting to experience life la francaise, which includes month-long holidays, an inordinate time of eating, drinking, and speaking of politics (a refreshing change in a Dilbertesque era of corporate downsizing and mega-mergers); by those who know that French is extremely marketable in American big cities (New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles) where huge French corporations, fashion houses, and banks are found. Or consider German, the language of the friendly economic giant of Europe, the European country with the deepest and most extensive ties to U.S. commerce; of the genius in music, literature, philosophy, and science (Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Wagner, Mahler, Goethe, Thomas Mann, Hesse, Kafka, Luther, Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche, Marx, Freud, and Einstein); of Austria and most of Switzerland; of some of the the worst outlaws and some of the most poignant victims of the 20th century--in short, the language of the culture which, if only for the spectacle of its contradictions, has extraordinary significance in the modern age. Or consider Russian, the language spoken by millions of people from Eastern Europe to the Pacific Ocean; by those interested in international affairs and business opportunities in the East; by those interested in science and mathematics where Russia still leads; by those wanting to explore the Russian heritage in this country, particularly Brooklyn and the neighborhood of Brighton Beach. And then there’s Portuguese, an official language in countries on five continents, spoken from Mozambique to Macao; it is the language of Brazil, which has the eighth largest economy in the world and the second largest economy in the Americas; it is studied by those interested in making connections between the Americas, either in culture or in business; by those interested in the history of European empire-building and its effects in Africa, Asia, and South America; by those interested in connecting with the over 1.3 million native speakers of Portuguese living in the United States. Taken and modified from the website of the Modern Languages department of Union College, Resources for your job or internship search Are there any books or websites out there to help me find jobs, or tell me about international opportunities and programs? Yes, of course. See any of the faculty in the Department of Modern Languages, or look at some of the resources below.
  • The following resources are especially useful:
Great Jobs for Foreign Language Majors by Julie Degalan and Stephen Lambert Careers in International Affairs by Maria Pinto Carland Or visit
  • And here are 30 Useful Resources for 1997 by the Monterey Institute of International Studies
General Almanac of International Jobs and Careers: A Guide to Over 1001 Employers and the Complete Guide to International Jobs and Careers. 2nd Editions, Krannich, Impact Publications, Manasses Park, VA, 1994 and 1992. Set covers paths, job hunting strategies, and employers. Guide to Careers in World Affairs. 3rd Edition, Foreign Policy Association, Impact Publications, Manasses Park, VA, 1993. Identifies major international employers in business, government, nonprofits, and translation. International Jobs: Where They are-How to Get Them. 4th Edition, Kocher. Addison-Wesley Publishing, Reading, MA 1993. General overview of international carrers, employers, career planning, and job hunting. "Think ’Job Skills First'...Then Think ’International Career’...," Planning Job Choices: 1997. 40th Edition, National Association of Colleges and Employers, Bethlehem, PA, 1996. Concise and realistic article for both undergraduate and graduate students wishing to find entry-level positions in international jobs. Business American Jobs Abroad. Harlow and Knappman, Visible Ink Press, Gale Research, Inc., Detroit, MI, 1994. More than 800 US companies and 100 government/nonprofit agencies with career opportunities in 111 countries. International Trade Resources Guide: Creating Job Through Trade. Stirling, California Chamber of Commerce and California Trade and Commerce Directory, 1993. States and metropolitan areas publish these type of international trade guides listing resources in the public and private sectors. Find the ones for your area. Opportunities in International Business. Arpan, VGM Career Horizons, NTC Publishing Group, Lincolnwood, Il, 1994. Overview of international business functions with a chapter on educational preparation. Government Foreign Affairs: The Career of Choice. The Foreign Affairs Agencies Recruitment Council, Washington, DC, 1993. Describes mission, positions, selection process, and how to apply to major U.S. Government agencies. How to Find an Overseas Job with the US Government. Cantrell and Modderno, Worldwise Books, Oakton, VA, 1992. The U.S. Government is the largest single employer of U.S. citizens oversead in a wide array of jobs. The Most Interesting Work in the World. U.S. Department of State, Washington, D.C., 1995. Student Intern Program (publication #10199), U.S. Department of State, Washington, D.C., Annual. Application for the Foreign Service Officer Examination (publicatin #10341). US Department of State, Washington, D.C., Annual. Describes Foreign Service Officer/Specialist and Civil Service employee jobs with information on student employment programs. The Most Interesting Work in the World videotape is part of a recruitment package developed by the U.S. Department of State in 1995. International Development, Peace and Security Interaction Member Profiles 1995-1996. Ed. by Geoghegan and Allen, InterAction-American Council for Voluntary International Action, Washington, D.C., 1995. Listing of 150 private voluntary organizations (PVO’s). International Affairs Directory of Organizations: The Access Resource Guide. Ed. Seymore, ABC-CLIO, Inc., Santa Barbara, CA, 1992. Information on war, peace, security, arms control, and disarmament organizations. The Peace Corps and More: 120 Ways to Work, Study and Travel in the Third World. 2nd Ed., Benjamin, Global Exchange, San Francisco, CA, 1993. How to get field experience in the interantional development field. International Education Academic Year Abroad, 1996-97 and Vacation Study Abroad, 1996-97. Institute of Internatinal Education (IIE), New York, NY, Annual. Best listings of U.S. college sponsored study abroad for summer, semester and year. Teaching English Abroad: Talk Your Way Around the World. 3rd Edition, Griffith, Vacation Work, Oxford, England (distributed by Peterson’s Guides, Princeton, NJ), 1996. The bible for teaching English overseas. International Exchange Locator: A Guide to U.S. Organizations, Federal Agencies, and Congressional Committees Active in International Educational Exchange. Ed. by Burton, Liaison Group for International Educational Exchange, Washington, D.C. (distributed by IIE Books, New York, NY), 1994. Over 150 listings. Internships, Study, Travel, and World Regions The Access Guide to International Affairs Internships: Washington, D.C. 4th Edition, Access, Washington, DC, 1996. Why not to do an international internship in the most international city in the U.S. Directory of International Internships: A Guide to International Internships Sponsored by Educational Institutions, Government Agencies, and Various Organizations. 3rd Edition, Ed. by Gliozzo et al., Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI, 1994. Excellent resource for internship opportunities at home and abroad. International Directory of Youth Internships with the United Nations, It’s Related Agencies, and Non-Governmental Organizations: A Directory of Intern/Volunteer Opportunities. 5th Edition, Ed. by Morehouse, The Apex Press, New York, NY, 1993. Good outline of where UN agencies are operating worldwide. International Internships and Volunteer Programs: International Options for Students and Professionals. Cantrell and Modderno, Worldwise books, Oakton, VA, 1992. Intercultural experiences for all employer types. Work, Study, Travel Abroad: The Whole World Handbook, 1994-95. 12th Edition, Council on International Educational Exchange, St. Martin’s Press, New York, NY, 1996. Unrivaled sourcebook for students. How to Get a Job in the Pacific Rim. Sanborn and Brandao, Surrey Books, Chicago, IL, 1992. Listings of employers, job hunting resources, and work permit regulations. Also, How to Get a Job in Europe, 1995. After Latin American Studies: A Guide to Graduate Study, Fellowships, Internships and Employment for Latin Americanists. Kregar, Center for Latin American Studies, University of Pittsburgh, PA, 1991. Opportunities in Africa. The African American Institute, Interbook, New York, NY, 1993. Another interesting article Is the state of language education in the United States as "scandalous" as it was in 1979? A recent conference at Stanford University explored the topic.