Learning a foreign language provides a lifetime of cultural enrichment

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Learning a foreign language takes time and dedication, but the rewards that come with knowing a new language are numerous. The Auburn University Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures provides students with the classes and resources necessary to learn a new language and reap the benefits that come with it.

The department, in the College of Liberal Arts, offers 10 languages: Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Greek, Latin, Russian, Italian, French, German and Spanish. Minors are available in all languages and majors are available in Spanish, French and German.

Lourdes Betanzos, department chair, explains that the benefits of learning another language go beyond just knowing another language. "You also have the opportunity to learn about the cultures involved with those languages and countries," he said. "It helps you have a broader perspective and a broader view of the world."

Auburn University graduate Andrew Tucker, a full-time legal translator and lecturer of translation in Mexico City, emphasizes that while learning a foreign language positively impacts employability and pay, it also provides opportunities to learn about other cultures and communicate with people from different parts of the world.

In turn, having a broader view of the world and learning other cultures is beneficial, even necessary, in a foreign language-based career. "You cannot translate well without a profound knowledge of the culture that produces the documents you work with, so studying a foreign language was a very important stepping stone on the path to acquiring the other skills necessary to do my job," Tucker said.

In addition to broadening one's worldview, learning another language allows for numerous career opportunities to develop. Many people think that the main or only career that stems from learning another language is teaching, but that's not the case.

"Teaching is great, and that's part of it, but it's not just teaching. You can do any number of things.  A lot of our language majors are actually double majors," Betanzos explained. "Some of them are in health professions, some of them are in engineering or business, and some of them are double majors with political science and are going to go on to law school. Our alumni have a wide variety of experiences as far as careers."

April Bradley, a 1997 graduate of Auburn University, has used her degree in Spanish-international trade in several different ways. She works in inside sales where she prepares proposals in English and in Spanish, and also works in marketing information to attract new businesses which includes translating brochures and website information to Spanish. Not only does Bradley use her foreign language degree in business, but she also started a foreign language program for children, Little Language LLC, which offers foreign language classes in seven different languages to children of all ages throughout the state of Alabama.

"Knowing a foreign language has given me an edge in a very competitive job market. Being able to speak Spanish instantly increases your client base since you are able to compete in their language and offer your product," Bradley explained. "Even if your ability to speak the language isn't perfect, it typically offers a sense of respect to our Spanish-speaking clients which in turn promotes a higher level of trust between the two parties, the seller and the buyer."

Knowing a foreign language also increases critical thinking and problem solving skills. There are also health benefits to learning a foreign language, such as enhanced listening skills and a stronger memory. This is due to a different part of the brain that is being activated.

Learning a foreign language is an investment that lasts a life time. "It has allowed me to step inside the context of other cultures and truly understand their needs, and to fully appreciate the world in which I live. I have made some lifelong friendships with wonderful people and that would not have necessarily been possible without the ability to communicate," Bradley concluded.

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Auburn University is a nationally ranked land grant institution recognized for its commitment to world-class scholarship, interdisciplinary research with an elite, top-tier Carnegie R1 classification, life-changing outreach with Carnegie’s Community Engagement designation and an undergraduate education experience second to none. Auburn is home to more than 30,000 students, and its faculty and research partners collaborate to develop and deliver meaningful scholarship, science and technology-based advancements that meet pressing regional, national and global needs. Auburn’s commitment to active student engagement, professional success and public/private partnership drives a growing reputation for outreach and extension that delivers broad economic, health and societal impact.