You already know the importance of learning a foreign language. It's good for your brain and it looks nice on your college application. It's a sign of worldliness and cultivation. Not surprisingly, most colleges and many high schools require foreign language study. While that's undoubtedly a good thing, the level of fluency achieved in these programs is quite limited. And that should come as no surprise considering the difficulty of becoming fluent when your exposure to it is limited to the classroom.
And so while some level of foreign language studies are common, particularly in college, fluency is not. Yet employers in both the private sector and federal government rate "can't get enough workers" with foreign language fluency. Fluency in a foreign language was even rated as "The hottest job skill" in America. Because of the high demand for foreign language fluency, a Harvard study estimated that fluency in a second language on average boosts earnings by as much as 30%.
But for all of the evident financial benefits of knowing a second language, the biggest payoff of foreign language study is far less obvious. Learning a language in depth offers a great deal of intangible benefits, particularly when combined with cultural immersion. Why?
The intangible benefits that come with learning a new language and immersion in a foreign culture are quite varied. The skills and qualities that you develop from such immersion are not only strengthen you in the business world, they enrich you personally, enhancing your cultural fluency and enlarging your soft skills. That means these are qualities that don't only help you in the workplace but aid you in all endeavors in life.
Language is about communication, and learning to communicate not only in a foreign language but in a different culture causes you to study human communication in depth. Seeing how other cultures utilize body language, gesticulation, tone, pitch, alliteration, metaphor differently than you do at home makes you more conscious of how you convey yourself. In adapting to the new language and culture, you pick up not only the words of the language but the methods of communication, enlarging your repertoire.
Living abroad also enables you to step outside of the bubble and look at your home culture from a distance. Experiencing a foreign culture gives you a perspective on your own. Just as learning a new language teaches you to communicate differently, cultural immersion brings to light the differences with your native culture, making you rethink patterns and habits, cultural norms and behaviors.
That's a crucial step in developing a creative and innovative mind. Progress comes in large part from learning from others; seeing what works and adapting it to your own needs. And creative problem solving always requires an ability to think outside of the box, to understand how and why things function differently outside of your national bubble.
Foreign language fluency and cultural immersion are always rewarding, but for college-bound teens and undergraduate students, they can be crucial. Spending a summer, semester, or gap year abroad is, of course, a productive way to go out and see the world. But digging deeper and immersing in a foreign culture has the added benefit of preparing students for life after college.
Participants come away from such programs better able to adapt to new situations and have a broader perspective than their peers who have never lived outside of the American bubble. And being fluent in a second language isn't just a job booster, it's a confidence builder that gives students a special skill that sets them above the rest, giving them enviable bragging rights.
So why stay a monolingual your whole life, spending your days abroad as a tourist? Become a polyglot and discover what life in another country is like beyond the hotel.
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