Foreign Languages


For anyone who knows there's more to language than Romance.


Barbara grew restless in her small, Nebraskan hometown. She was a woman consumed by wanderlust. She needed a change of scenery, so as soon as she saved up enough money, she packed her bags and flew to France. She emerged from the airport terminal, and noticed that the signs had strange little markings above the letters. "Les arrivées?" Barbara was perplexed, but dismissed it as a typo.

She waltzed into the lobby, thrilled to be somewhere unfamiliar. She was tired, though, and could use a coffee, so she asked a passerby, "Excuse me, where is the nearest coffee shop?" The stranger looked confused, and a little offended. "Parlez-vous français?" he asked. Barbara was floored, completely stunned. It had never occurred to her. It's not like the movies. They don't speak English in France.

Okay, so maybe that's a little unrealistic. If Barbara knew about France, she probably knew about French. Seriously, though, the United States is one of the most monolingual countries in the world. You know what they say…people who speak two languages are called bilingual, people who speak more than two are called polyglots (like good ol' Ferdinand), but what do you call people who speak only one? Americans. Sigh.

Majoring in a foreign language means being able to communicate with a bigger percentage of the world population. Sure, you might think most of the world speaks English, but English actually only has the third largest number of native speakers in the world at about 5.5%, after Mandarin (~14%) and Spanish (~6%). If you learn Mandarin, you'd be able to effectively communicate with about a billion more people. You can travel more of the world and actually understand what people are saying. Unlike Barbara.

Percentage of US students who major in Foreign Languages:


Stats obtained from this source.