The True Cost of (Not) Learning a Second Language for International Education

The True Cost of (Not) Learning a Second Language for International Education

In today’s world, marked by social awareness, university students are increasingly questioning the value of studying a second language (L2). With translations readily available at our fingertips and the global prevalence of English, many assume that learning another language is not worthwhile. In this article, I explore two common reasons students often give for not undertaking this task and present some counterpoints for your consideration. Rather than dictating what students should do, I encourage them to reflect. After all, one of the goals of higher education is to prepare students to become independent, critical thinkers capable of forming their own conclusions.

Among the arguments against studying an L2, two common issues emerge:

  1. Time Factor: Learning a second language takes time, specifically to reach a level where the learner feels proficient in the L2 or to some extent, bilingual.
  2. Cost Consideration: There can be significant costs associated with language learning. Even if an institution offers the L2, students often perceive language classes as “a waste of time and money,” believing that their resources could be better invested in courses that directly contribute to degree completion.

Counter-argument #1: Consider that virtually anything you’ve ever achieved and value took time to attain. Reading, for instance, is a skill you’ve developed over time. Now, imagine planning a semester abroad. Without knowledge of the country’s language you intend to visit, you may find your course options limited. Your university’s partner institution might excel in areas like nanotechnology, but you won’t be able to enroll in courses that could fulfill your degree requirements because they are offered in the country’s native language. Instead, you’ll be restricted to culture, history, or even language classes designed for foreign students. Consequently, the potential benefits of a semester abroad—the ones you hoped would enrich your life experiences and align with your degree—are now delayed. This delay could even dissuade you from pursuing a semester abroad altogether.

Counter-argument #2: While some universities charge tuition on a per-credit-hour basis, others have flat rates for a range of credits, especially during the first year. If your institution doesn’t offer the desired language, numerous alternatives are available, such as online courses, private schools, or local ethnic community centers. Consider that a typical 1- to 2-week study tour led by a professor from your institution is likely to cost a few thousand dollars. Although these courses are conducted in your native language, the true international experience you seek—involving interactions with local people and their culture—will be significantly constrained. This raises the question of why you would spend money on such an experience when you could take a similar course at home. Without even basic familiarity with the language, you’ll rely on others for fundamental tasks like getting around or ordering food in a restaurant, greatly diminishing the value of the experience.

Hence, when deliberating whether to study a second language for international education, remember that even a basic level of familiarity with the L2 can be beneficial and enhance your experience. While objections may always exist, take care to assess the potential cost of not pursuing this valuable endeavor.

About the author: Dr. Lawrence N. Berlin is an accomplished independent consulting professor with a wealth of experience in the field of international higher education. He brings expertise in a diverse range of areas, including teacher training, research design (both qualitative and quantitative), program and project development and management, curriculum design and innovation, grant writing, strategic planning, second language acquisition, pragmatics, and second and foreign language teaching and learning. LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/lawrence-n-berlin/
Share this on:

Sponsored ad

Sponsored ad

Sponsored ad

Sponsored ad

Episode 29: Cultural Lens on U.S. Higher Education: Analyzing International Perceptions of 'Anti-Woke’ Discourse

Dive into a nuanced exploration of the global discourse surrounding higher education in the United States. Join us for a panel discussion with esteemed international educators as we embark on a journey through the lenses of culture and international perspective, examining how global audiences interpret and engage with the ‘anti-woke’ discourse within the context of U.S. higher education. This engaging panel discussion will delve into the intersections of culture, ideology, and education, and the complex landscape of how international audiences perceive the ‘anti-woke’ narrative that has emerged within U.S. academia.

Whether you’re a senior international officer, or simply curious about the diverse viewpoints shaping U.S. higher education, this podcast episode will provide an invaluable space for critical analysis and insightful conversations.

Speaker Biography:

Fanta Aw is a distinguished leader in international education, renowned for her extensive contributions to global learning, cross-cultural understanding, and educational equity. With a deep commitment to fostering connections between diverse cultures and promoting educational excellence, she has significantly impacted the international education community.

Fanta Aw’s career has been characterized by her dedication to advancing global education initiatives, promoting diversity and inclusion, and nurturing partnerships that transcend borders. She has held influential roles in various organizations, advocating for the importance of international collaboration and learning experiences that empower individuals to navigate an increasingly interconnected world.

As a thought leader and visionary, Fanta Aw’s insights and expertise have shaped discussions on the future of international education, emphasizing the significance of equitable access, cultural exchange, and lifelong learning. Her work has not only elevated institutions but has also inspired countless individuals to embrace the transformative power of global education.

Date: September 14th, 2023
Time: 12 noon ET

Sponsored by:

Mark Beirn


An experienced global researcher and administrator, Mark Beirn brings a critical approach to risk management, factoring structural racism and identity-based violence into his rubric for supporting equitable global mobility.

Specialization Areas:

– Global Risk Management
– Education Abroad
– Diversity, Equity, Inclusion in International Education
– Health and Safety
– Curriculum Development


Stephen Appiah-Padi​


Stephen Appiah-Padi is an international educator with several years of teaching and administrative experience in both 4 and 2-year HEIs. An experienced global education practitioner-scholar, with a demonstrated history of success in the field.

Dr. Appiah-Padi has a Ph.D. from the University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada in Educational Policy & Administration with a specialization in International/Intercultural Education.

At Northwestern College, he provided oversight in the administration of education abroad and international student services. In Lansing, Michigan, he first oversaw diversity and intercultural education at Lansing Community College, and later created the Center for International and Intercultural Education (CIIE) which merged intercultural engagement and international education programs of the institution, and he became its first director. Additionally, Dr. Appiah-Padi taught a course, “Diversity in the American Workplace”, to undergraduate management students of the College. In his current position, he provides leadership and vision in advancing strategic internationalization initiatives, including international partnerships and study abroad programs at Bucknell University.

Dr Appiah-Padi has created and facilitated several workshops for faculty and staff development in higher education and in business organizations. He has presented at several national and international conferences. In NAFSA, among several volunteer leadership positions, he has served as Dean of the Fundamentals of Intercultural Communication Workshop, the Leadership Development Committee member, Chair of the Africa Special Interest Group, and a Fellow of the Global Fellowship Program for mentoring emerging leaders of internationalization in African HEIs. He currently serves as a member of the NAFSA Board of Directors.

Subscribe to Gateway Edge Newsletter & Spotlight Episodes

We use Mailchimp as our marketing platform. By clicking below to subscribe, you acknowledge that your information will be transferred to Mailchimp for processing.

Rosa Almoguera


Dr. Rosa Almoguera has worked as an international educator for over twenty years. She was trained as a Hispanic Philologist at the Universidad Complutense, in Madrid, and did her M.A. at the University of Pennsylvania. Her Ph.D., from Universidad Complutense included a field study and edition of written balladry “Romancero”. During many years Rosa combined teaching and her role as a senior administrator at the Fundación Ortega-Marañón in Toledo, Spain. At the Foundation, Rosa directed and, in many cases created, programs for the University of Minnesota, Notre Dame, Princeton, Ohio State, Arcadia, and the University of Chicago. She has also been a visiting professor at the University of Minnesota, University of Portland, and Interamericana de Puerto Rico.

Beginning in 2016, Rosa works as an international education consultant for both public and private European and US higher education institutions. Rosa has been successful in developing new partnerships and programs, as well as helping improve already existing ones.

Rosa is a member of Forum and NAFSA and has presented with higher education professionals on innovative academic and research programming, STEM in study abroad and Nationalism in Europe. Rosa is currently completing the final Professional Certification from the Forum on Education Abroad.