Learning a less commonly taught language is a crucial opportunity for the 21st century citizen.
The broad range of these languages available at Columbia, Cornell, and Yale is a unique opportunity that is enhanced and fostered by the Shared Course Initiative.
While there are many benefits to language learning in general, here are three major ways that learning a less commonly taught l language can help you:
Languages are much more than a series of grammar rules: they’re a foundation of knowledge and the unique medium of thought. From languages spring all activities that make us distinctly human: culture, history, philosophy, politics, and the rhythms of everyday life. Learning a less commonly taught language allows you to engage with any academic discipline to a greater degree of depth because it gives you a unique and different perspective on how different cultures organize knowledge. This makes you more capable of challenging assumptions, engaging in critical inquiry, and increasing your capacity for creative, out-of-the-box thinking, which is necessary to be successful in the 21st century.
In this clip, Omoyeni speaks about how learning Yoruba gave her access to an entire culture.
“What are you going to do with that?” is a common question that parents and relatives pose to university-level students engaged in language study. While some careers entail the direct application of languages (translator, professor, language teacher), the indirect applications of learning a less-commonly-taught language may be of even greater value.
Imagine how much more compelling your résumé would be if it listed proficiency in a language like Finnish or Sinhala or Zulu. Language study of this kind immediately demonstrates an intellectual curiosity and a willingness to step outside your comfort zone to a potential employer.
Furthermore, knowledge of a less-commonly-taught language can complement what you do in a seemingly unrelated career in a variety of ways.
As an example, in this clip Nasrin speaks about how her study of Bengali will assist her in her future career as a doctor.
According to Lead with Languages, the “many cognitive benefits of learning languages are undeniable. People who speak more than one language have improved memory, problem-solving and critical-thinking skills, enhanced concentration, ability to multitask, and better listening skills. They switch between competing tasks and monitor changes in their environment more easily than monolinguals, as well as display signs of greater creativity and flexibility. If that weren’t enough, as we age, being bilingual or multilingual also helps to stave off mental aging and cognitive decline.”
This brief TED talk goes into greater depth about the cognitive benefits of language learning.