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:
- 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.
- 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.