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Sunday, July 21, 2024

Column: It’s Greek to me

With Obama schmoozing with the president of China last week, there has been a lot of talk about global relations. But, what language does that talk take place in? While English is steadily taking over the world in terms of its increasing number of non-native speakers, Chinese still holds the trophy of being the most spoken language on the globe. Why should we university students care? Well, if you want to get a job anytime soon, I suggest having one main component on your resume: multilingualism.

A recent study at UC San Diego named “English translation and foreign languages” and “teaching English as a second language” as two of the top 10 sectors where business is booming. Some of you might be surprised to find these fields to be named alongside businesses such as healthcare and renewable energy. Yes, foreign languages are not going to directly save the whales from extinction or cure cancer, but they can be the key to finding the answers to our problems. Collaboration can’t happen if we don’t understand each other.

Half of the world population will be counted as English-speaking by 2015. On the other hand, the United States is expected to increase its number of Spanish speakers from 31 million to more than 100 million over the course of the next forty years.

I am a California girl. Yes, I am fine, fresh and fierce. No, I will not melt your popsicle. That’s just rude. As a Californian, I’ve grown up surrounded and sometimes immersed in Spanish. Because of this, I’ve been trying to master the language for a while.

It’s not like I need it to fill out my taxes, but my three years of high school Spanish have already paid off big time. Teaching at a summer school, I got the gist of what some of those middle school students were saying behind my back. And working at American Eagle during my summers at home, although I could sell you the jeans off my legs (oh, jeggings), it wasn’t until my boss found out that I could speak some Spanish that I was scheduled for more hours.

For those of you who view your degree’s foreign language requirement as just another requirement to sleep through, wake up and smell the coffee (coffee that is probably grown in a country with citizens who don’t speak English). As taken straight from the Office of the University Registrar’s website, learning another language “enables students to communicate effectively in an increasingly internationalized world, [and] enhances their ability to understand ways of thinking different from their own.” If you aren’t here to learn how to communicate and think, you should probably reconsider your enrollment.

“I’m studying French because I want to be able to travel, but also because I’m interested in European and African politics,” said Erin Fracolli, a junior international relations major. “Knowing French will be an important aspect of my career.”

Foreign language skills are vital in the fields of arts and humanities and the social sciences. My English professors love to drop German, French and Latin phrases into lectures whenever possible. For my linguistics final last quarter, I had to analyze a data set in Estonian. It might be a little less obvious, but foreign languages are also becoming increasingly useful in the sciences and engineering.

“Engineers have to work all around the world,” said Hasan Ghadialy, a junior material science engineering major. “For example, it is very likely that an engineer for Schlumberger ends up working in the Middle East. My cousin works for Bechtel and has to relocate every few years. He has worked in places like Singapore, Australia and Iceland.”

Even if your future career involves sitting at a desk surrounded by English-speaking co-workers, knowing a foreign language is still going to come in handy. We are constantly bombarded with foreign language in our everyday lives. If you keep kosher, you need to know what “carnitas” is before eating at a Mexican restaurant. When you listen to American pop songs, even Lady Gaga speaks French in “Bad Romance.”

According to a study by the Modern Language Association, almost 865,000 college students were enrolled in Spanish classes in 2009. From 1998 to 2009, the number of college students enrolled in Chinese classes has more than doubled and the number of students taking Arabic has increased from 5,505 to 35,083. Go add yourself to one of these statistics.

Need help conjugating your verbs? CORRIE JACOBS does, too. Reach her at cljacobs@ucdavis.edu.


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