A quick glance at education-related news today will yield numerous stories about debt-laden students not having the networks, skills, or experience needed to find a job. As a result of a sluggish labor market, students today are looking for innovative ways to market themselves to potential employers. Historically, having a degree was enough to guarantee a job upon graduation, but many education experts today believe that the master’s degree is becoming the norm in today’s society. Some have flocked to “skill-based” fields such as engineering or business while others have pursued freelance positions, but a less-commonly taken path to prosperity is to supplement one’s master’s degree with a foreign language. Not only does adopting multiple languages open up career opportunities, but studies have shown that having this skill also improves physical and mental health in the future.
Career Advantages of Foreign Language Study
Foreign language study is a given for aspiring translators or interpreters, foreign language instructors, or students who intend to study abroad in a program conducted in the language of the host country. However, studying a foreign language during school enhances degrees even when there is no obvious connection to the subject matter. Studying a foreign language during an MBA program, for example, can be the determining factor in landing a plum assignment with an international corporation, or gaining a prestige international client as an independent consultant.
In other cases, bypassing the opportunity to learn French, Spanish, Chinese, Arabic or some other language is often a short-sighted decision that has detrimental effect on a student’s future career. For instance, some ability in speaking, reading or understanding a foreign language is almost essential for professionals such as attorneys, physicians, educators and scientists whose work means interacting with a multicultural population of colleagues and clients.
Foreign Language Study and Career Enhancement
Aspiring classical musicians, art historians and diplomats often complete advanced foreign language study as part of their program curriculums. Even when foreign language instruction is not required, many students gain a working knowledge of at least one foreign language either along with their studies or as part of their undergraduate studies. Knowledge of a foreign language enables students in these professions to read source documents in their original languages and communicate with colleagues on work teams comprised of individuals worldwide.
Although young talents like Chinese pianist Lang Lang have renewed interest in classical music, its roots are planted firmly in 17th and 18th Century Europe. Much of the body of classical music, whether the medium is opera, chamber music or symphonies, is available only in German, Italian or French. Studying classical music as a performer, conductor or music historian is greatly enhanced if you have a working knowledge of at least one European language. At the Julliard School, students studying Piano in the Doctor of Musical Arts program are required to study musical history and critique along with performance instruction. A first-year doctoral course, History and Practice: Renaissance and Baroque Periods, examines composers, culture and repertoires of music during this period. A second year course, Studies in Style Criticism Topic: The Songs and Symphonies of Brahms and Mahler, examines the social forces that influenced the music of these two composers along with addressing the mechanics of text, meter and instrumentation of each composer’s works.
Museums, libraries, historical sites, zoos, universities and governmental units at the local, state and national level employ art historians and archivists to catalogue and present works of art, historical papers, audio and video recordings, photos, archeological artifacts and antiquities. Curators and historians who know at least one foreign language are at a distinct advantage in the job market, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. While students in the Master of Arts in Modern and Contemporary Art History, Theory, and Criticism program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago are not required to study a foreign language, they are strongly encouraged to do so to support their academic research, especially if they later enroll in the doctoral program.
The United States government dispatches ambassadors and diplomats to nearly every country on Earth, including posts in the developing world and in hostile hot spots. The State Department employs Foreign Service Officers to fill these important posts. One of the absolute requirements of a Foreign Service assignment is to know or be willing to learn one or more foreign languages . Students enrolled in the Lauder Program at the Wharton School of Business (University of Pennsylvania) combine in-depth language study along with courses addressing the culture, business climate and politics of a single region to earn a joint MBA and a Master of Arts in International Studies degree.
Health Benefits of Foreign Language Study
Separately, for students beginning a master’s degree program, age-related cognitive decline may seem like a distant worry, if they consider the issue at all. Even so, studying a foreign language in school can provide immediate benefits that endure even into old age. Bilingualism seems to be an especially potent weapon against the onset of dementia. Specifically, knowing a second language seems to significantly slow the progression of the devastating effects of Alzheimer’s disease.
According to a study conducted at York University in Toronto, Canada; within a group of approximately 100 patients suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, the bilingual patients had been diagnosed an average of four years later than patients who only spoke one language. Further, CT scans of patients who were the same age and functioning at the same cognitive effects showed that the physical damage to the bilingual patients’ brains was greater. The study seems to indicate that knowing a second language slows the progression of the disease. This benefit seems to stem from the fact that learning a second language improves analytic functioning, which is especially valuable in completing graduate level subjects.
For Further Reading:
- American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages
- Council of American Ambassadors: Frequently Asked Questions
- Entrepreneur: How to Start a Consulting Business
- North Carolina State University: What Can I Do With a Major in Foreign Languages?
- Operamusique: Vocabulaire de l’Opéra
- UKP—Arts: Know the Score – Training and Careers In Classical Music
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Interpreters and Translators
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Musicians, Singers and Related Workers
- U.S. Department of State: Foreign Service Officer Career Tracks
- The Wharton MBA at the University of Pennsylvania: Lauder Program