Why Foreign Languages?

It is no secret that language is a foundation of human behavior. Words can help us share our feelings, thoughts, needs, and wants. Notice the word human in “human behavior.” Human beings’ written and spoken language abilities is a main component of what separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom. The value of language skills cannot be ignored. 

The cornerstone of an education at Emory College of Arts and Sciences is the liberal arts. According to its official website, the missions of a liberal arts education at Emory College are to “emphasize critical thinking, the nature of evidence from multiple perspectives and the ability to effectively reason and communicate.” In other words, a main goal of the liberal arts is to make students more “well-rounded” in nature.

What makes the human species unique and complex is our ability to comprehend multiple languages. Despite an innate talent for language that all humans share in some capacity, we still experience miscommunications and misunderstandings. This common human struggle is where the study of foreign languages comes into playStudents who study a foreign language will find that, overall, they are more effectively able to communicate in both languages and will find their views expanded and experiences liberalized. To better conceptualize the true usefulness of foreign language study, I’m going to break down Emory College’s definition for a liberal arts education and explain how foreign language studies can be directly applied to each component: 

To “emphasize critical thinking, the nature of evidence from multiple perspectives:” 

In order to effectively analyze an issue and form a proper judgement, one must be able to think about that issue from multiple perspectives, not simply the perspective of their native society. Studying foreign cultures allows one to do just that. Students will be equipped to think logically about an issue from the perspective of a foreign culture, which is a skill that not many people have. When someone has lived within one culture for an extended period of time (which describes most students of liberal arts institutions), they often are predisposed to certain ideological barriers. These barriers can be detrimental to a student’s ability to think critically, since their views on issues are minimized to the ones that they have been exposed to. Foreign language and culture studies are designed to break those barriers and make the world more interconnected. Foreign language and culture studies also allow for students to be able to interpret different types of evidence from different disciplines, such as philosophy, mathematics, art, fashion, cuisine, and film. Increasing students’ access to various perspectives will aid in making one’s education more well-rounded, appealing to the goals of the liberal arts. 


“The ability to effectively reason and communicate:” 

One of the things that make human beings unique is our ability to effectively communicate through language. This communication skill is vital for the liberal arts, since critical thinking and communication go hand-in-hand. In order for one to be able to analyze various perspectives, they must be able to reason with those who might represent a foreign culture. Since foreign languages also require more attentive listening (since the language is foreign), this active listening will also apply to the student’s native language, causing for more effective communication. Liberal arts institutions, particularly Emory College, encourage students to study abroad, which provides a continuation and reinforcement for a student’s foreign language requirement. Requiring foreign language studies will make students more comfortable exploring a culture and society different from the one in which they are used to. Foreign language and culture studies will ensure that students are comfortable communicating and behaving in an environment different than their home. 


Aside from the above listed benefits, another goal of a liberal arts education is to ensure that students are prepared for post-graduate studies and their future work. Being able to communicate in another language is an advantageous skill to have, since many jobs are created in the United States as a result of foreign trade. People have a higher tendency to migrate to various different countries, which makes the present world of commerce highly global in nature. This global nature will cause students to need to communicate with those in foreign countries effectively. 

Emory students should feel fortunate to have the opportunity to extensively study a foreign language.


All universities should have a facility devoted to the study of foreign languages, such as Emory’s Modern Languages Building!

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