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Utility of Language Major/Minor?

Posted: Thu Apr 21, 2011 12:08 am UTC
by Gordon Black
Hi guys. I'll be heading to the University of Minnesota next year and majoring in Biochemistry. I plan on enrolling in medical school after that. My question centers on double major-ing in a language as an undergrad. Specifically, I should be able to test out of most of the 100 and 200 level Spanish courses, putting me at, say, one course a semester in order to get a minor in the language. Are there any good reasons I should/shoudn't do this? Any potential benefits when applying for jobs/medical school? Or is that "bilingual advantage" stuff just a myth? What about a major? Pros and cons of each? If you have any experience with this kind of thing, or are at the same place I am, feel free to toss in your $.02.

Re: Utility of Language Major/Minor?

Posted: Fri Apr 22, 2011 3:14 am UTC
by doogly
Language is universally useful. No matter what sort of field you find yourself in, it is helpful. I know folks for whom language studies have proven more important than their actual majors in econ or whatnot.

For medicine, you should think about what you plan to do with it. Non English speakers will need a lot of care, and are a demographic in the US that will be growing. So there is certainly an advantage their. If you want to get involved with Doctors Without Borders or any of the numerous other volunteer organizations that set up clinics in other countries, the language will certainly help. Some programs like this are available to undergrads, and look great on med school apps. Just, to think about.

Re: Utility of Language Major/Minor?

Posted: Mon May 02, 2011 4:17 am UTC
by cv4
At worst, if you have the space in your schedule, it's definitely not going to hurt your chances at anything you want to do and will give you a little leg up over similar competition in most cases.

Re: Utility of Language Major/Minor?

Posted: Mon Jul 11, 2011 6:24 pm UTC
by ShootTheChicken
Bump/hijack

Going to school next September (15months) but haven't decided entirely what I want to study. What really interests me that I'd love to learn is a language or two / linguistics. I want to learn it because I want to learn it but I do worry that it's not entirely useful without another degree or something to compliment it. Anybody studying just language who can throw out some thoughts?

Re: Utility of Language Major/Minor?

Posted: Thu Jul 14, 2011 7:22 am UTC
by cathrl
Just language probably isn't useful unless you see yourself as a language teacher. People who are employed because of their language skills (i.e. translators and interpreters) are almost all bilingual / trilingual, or at the very least they are completely fluent. Taking a few courses in college isn't going to get you to that level. You'd need to be almost there already, or at least well on the way.

But as an additional skill it can be very useful. I got my programming job because I speak French well enough to deal with the occasional French customer who rings up for tech support, and we got the contract I work on when I'm not doing tech support because we could provide a programmer (me) who could communicate with the engineers at the French company whose software it is.

Re: Utility of Language Major/Minor?

Posted: Tue Jul 26, 2011 2:53 pm UTC
by Kizyr
(Probably should've commented on this earlier... Anyway.)
Learning another language is extremely useful. A language major is not.

Ok, that's a slight exaggeration. But, a language major/minor usually says very little about how much you actually speak a language, and just how many classes you've taken in it. Most employers who want you to be able to speak another language are concerned with your fluency/literacy in it, not degrees in it -- which is why, say, native speakers of two languages don't really need a B.A. to prove it. (Similarly, I have a minor in Japanese, but if I need to describe my Japanese ability I put it in terms of what kind of subjects I can talk about, or my JLPT score, not my degree.)

That being said, the courses involved in a language program will cover a lot of different aspects of the language and background cultures (assuming a good language program). So there is some inherent worth in it. The kind of career opportunities you could open up with it, though, have language fluency as only one aspect of the skills they want. KF

Re: Utility of Language Major/Minor?

Posted: Tue Jul 26, 2011 5:39 pm UTC
by LaserGuy
ShootTheChicken wrote:Bump/hijack

Going to school next September (15months) but haven't decided entirely what I want to study. What really interests me that I'd love to learn is a language or two / linguistics. I want to learn it because I want to learn it but I do worry that it's not entirely useful without another degree or something to compliment it. Anybody studying just language who can throw out some thoughts?


If you really want to learn a language, university/college is not the best way to do it, IMHO. Take the funds you are planning on spending on courses in that language, and travel to a country that speaks it. If possible, get a work permit and try to find a job. Don't speak English while you are there. You will learn far faster, and be far more competent in the language in an immersion setting than you will ever get in a classroom. You'll also get to travel and experience another culture while you are at it. Think of it this way: if you are doing 2 classes in your language course, if those classes are 100% immersion, then you might get 6 hours per week of language training. In a four-month academic term, you will get 70-80 hours of language training total. If you are in another country, you will be exposed to the language pretty much every waking hour--say, 14 hours a day. That is, you will get >80 hours of language training per week. Over the same 4 month period, you accumulate over 1000 hours of language exposure--the equivalent of about 25 courses worth.

Re: Utility of Language Major/Minor?

Posted: Sat Aug 13, 2011 7:01 am UTC
by TheDancingFox
LaserGuy is definitely right: don't go to college for the purpose of learning a language. However, if you are at college to learn something else, spending some time and classes learning a language also is totally fine and great, if you really can put yourself into it. Also, do a quarter/semester abroad, it'll be one of the best, quickest, immersive ways to learn a language without leaving college.

As to linguistics, it's a super cool field. However, you are correct: the biggest job for linguistics experts is teaching linguistics. There's research, and writing books, sure, but you can't really rely on either of these. You might find things difficult after college without some other expertise. However, if you also graduate speaking several languages, you could get a job as a translator, or in certain other opportunities: it's a big plus in some places if you speak certain languages, especially Spanish, Mandarin, and Arabic, I believe.

Honestly, knowing another language is just a great thing in life. It's worth doing, careers aside.