Category Archives: Languages in Liberal Arts

Communicating with Humor

Before coming to Beijing to study at Peking University, I had heard that using the internet as I had in the US would be a challenge. The Chinese government regulates which websites people can access, and sites such as Facebook, YouTube, and Netflix are all banned. When I arrived at my hotel and dorm room in Beijing, I quickly realized that the lack of access to certain websites was the least of my problems. When I got to my room, I realized that I had no internet access at all– I had no cell-phone service or wi-fi in my room. After using my broken Chinese to ask a hotel manager how to “use the internet,” the manager informed me that I would need to go to a cell-phone store to connect my phone and buy a router. At the time, I barely knew how to say “use the internet,” let alone “cell-phone plan,” “unlimited data,” “router,” or “I would like to purchase this router and cell-phone plan.” 

Because I came to Beijing a week before my program started, I needed to go by myself to set up a phone plan and buy the router. The day after I arrived in Beijing, I walked from my hotel to an outlet mall to find the merchant stall that the hotel manager directed me to visit. I naively expected the store manager might speak some English so we could communicate; as soon as I approached the stall’s clerk, he told me in Chinese, “I’m sorry, I don’t speak any English.” For the next hour, I embarked on a haphazard and messy process of using the few vocabulary words I knew to ask to “use the internet” for the amount of time I would be in Beijing. I did not understand the majority of the clerk’s responses. However, I was ultimately able to piece together my limited vocabulary to get a phone plan with unlimited data and a router. Though it was obvious that my Chinese level was painfully low, the clerk was actually pleased and amused by my efforts and even decided to give me a discount on my phone plan. I left the shop not just with internet access, but also with a new WeChat friend who told me about his family and the best places to visit in Beijing. 

The most significant part of this exchange was not my extensive knowledge of Chinese vocabulary and syntax. Rather, I was able to creatively piece together the bits of words, sentences, and phrases I had learned to make meaning and communicate with the person standing across from me. Learning Chinese gave me tools to communicate with the store clerk not just through words, but through laughing at my mistakes and overcoming my embarrassment to make a connection with another person. My language learning experiences have given me the tools to creatively and holistically communicate with others. Moreover, learning Chinese has given me the ability to approach unfamiliar situations, often when I do not know what is happening or how to say exactly what I want to, with confidence, persistence, and good humor.

Failed Presentations and Confusing Communications – Lucy

I was sixteen. It was my first class presentation for German and I had memorized half the words, with no note cards to help me with the other half of the words. My slides on my presentation were set to switch after 30 seconds, as imposed by my teacher Mr. Eickhoff, and as soon as the presentation began, it quickly went downhill. As I struggled to remember the words I had not committed to memory, the slides continued to change, and soon I just stopped talking, standing in front of my class silent as the presentation cycled on. I imagine it was very painful to watch. Mr. Eickhoff allowed me to try again a week later, and I, desperately trying to avoid the same mortifying experience, practiced my presentation dozens of times. I ended up getting an A. 

Two years later I was in Berlin, Germany on a summer abroad program, standing in front of another class. This time, I was ready. My words weren’t memorized, instead, I had a general idea of what I wanted to say and a larger working vocabulary to pull from. And so I stood in front of the class and I did exactly what I couldn’t do two years before; I came up with half of my words on the spot. Not because I hadn’t prepared (though I definitely had been more interested

Sightseeing in Berlin

in visiting the Brandenburg Tor then doing my homework the day before), but because I knew enough of the language to phrase my sentences based on the moment. And it went wonderfully. After I thanked my class for their Aufmerksamkeit (attention), I returned to my seat and all I could think was: I just presented in German. No sweat. And if I could present in a foreign language, a language that I wasn’t even fluent in, then I could accomplish anything in my native language. 

Or at least, I have a newfound confidence in my communication skills. I’ve been in front of a room full of people, overwhelmed and stressed out, and I’ve choked before. And from that experience, I’ve learned how to recognize my weaknesses and improve myself. I’ve gained the confidence I need to command a room and the humility to recognize where I need improvements, which in the workplace can make me a vital team player and introspective worker. 

Class presentations are just one of the many character-building experiences language learning provides. Immersive language settings, such as living with a host family in a small Bavarian town when I was 15, have pushed me to be more flexible and adaptable to unknown experiences. In Straubing, Germany, I stayed with a girl my age, Angie, and her family. At the time, I spoke not a word of German, though Angie’s family spoke in such a thick Bavarian dialect I may not have been able to understand them anyway. Angie spoke English well, but she often didn’t tell me what plans we had for the day. Thus, I was constantly being thrust into new situations without preparation. One day we woke up and she announced we were going

With Angie’s family on a random adventure

to a music festival in Munich. We got on the train and I realized it was a two hour train ride. 

Staying with Angie taught me how to roll with the punches, but also, it emphasized to me the importance of communication. It wouldn’t have been difficult for Angie to tell me our plans; she

did speak English after all. She would tell her friends, who were with us, in Bavarian dialect, but neglect to tell me and by effect, I felt very excluded and isolated. By keeping others in the loop on details and plans, it fosters a sense of community and acceptance; something which is very important in a formal workplace.

 Dedicating my time to learning German, Spanish, or even that one class I took in Latin, has improved my human relations skill set exponentially. Each experience builds on the last, whether it be choking on a presentation, taking random two-hour train rides to Munich, feeling isolated by others’ lack of communication, or one of the numerous other experiences that have equipped me to thrive in a formal work setting.

Language majors have robust critical thinking skills

As a French and Linguistics double major, I have developed robust critical thinking skills that will transfer well into the workforce. I have excellent analytical skills given the emphasis on critical analysis placed in Emory’s undergraduate program. One of the primary foci of my French degree included learning how to dissect the point of view, objectives, and rhetorical devices found in texts. I am using texts in a general sense to refer to genres including literature, film, images, websites, and others. This experience prepares me well to deduce the objectives of outside parties that I find in company correspondence. Based upon my close reading of outside parties’ goals and stipulations, I will be able to provide well-informed recommendations for company action. Additionally, I will be able to produce and guide the creation of company documents that convey objectives effectively. For example, I will shape the company website in order to best highlight points that are important to company goals. The training in critical analysis that I received in my French and Linguistics degrees equips me well to understand and implement company goals through correspondence and publications.

Studying languages requires students to critically analyze texts from a variety of genres, including art.

I have also developed a keen understanding of diverse perspectives through my experience studying and working in France. I realize that the best service caters to each customers’ needs and desires, which is only possible when the company understands its diverse customer base. I learned this lesson while interning at a translation firm in Paris, France. My clients from Italy and France had very different expectations in terms of deadlines, cost, pace of communication, and other factors. In catering to these different client expectations, I learned how grateful clients are when they realize that companies are tailoring service to their needs. In a future career, I will continue to prioritize understanding the diverse perspectives found in my client base.

Foreign Language and Liberal Arts

The study of liberal arts shapes the students’ abilities to learn and critically think for a lifetime. What is unique about liberal arts education is that it enriches the student’s mind with different varieties of courses to make them adaptable to different rather than following a strict rubric of courses to prepare for a certain career.

What makes the liberal arts education invaluable is the broad range of knowledge and the appreciation of diversity students develop. Therefore, being educated in one different culture is essential to having pride in appreciating diversity. Moreover, the exposure of students to different cultures is crucial to improve students’ adaptability. Because of that, learning a new language is out of the question when it comes to getting a valuable liberal art degree because one is not only learning the language, but is also learning about the culture. The cultural aspect of liberal arts is a key component of a well-rounded undergraduate degree. Without the exposure to a different language, being educated in a different culture or being diverse is less likely.

Learning a new language equips the mind with new lens to view the world from a different perspective. When learning a new language, a student is challenged to express themselves with the limited vocabulary that they have learned. Also, most of the introductory language courses incorporate culture into the course exposing the student to a new environment and perspective. As the student advances in the language courses, they begin to incorporate more complex forms of expression that the language has, such as idioms and metaphors. As the advancement continues, they dive deeper into the culture and begin to understand and recognize different patterns of expression in different cultures. Through such experiences, a student gets the chance to view the world from a new angle and recognize the differences in the ways people conceive experience.

While the study of liberal and cultures through texts in English provides some knowledge about cultures, it is unequivocally secondhand knowledge. Learning a language provides a more in-depth understanding of the culture that is unmatched through English. While liberal arts courses train the mind to think critically, language learning does so in a unique way that exposes the mind to different perspectives that cannot be accomplished otherwise.

Image result for percentage of people who speak more than one language in the us

Percentage of Americans who speak more than one language

What is the one human ability you are afraid to lose?

Written by: Katherine Ahn 

Language is the human ability that I am afraid to lose. One of the most unique elements of being human is how we acquire language and the complexity of the language that we use. Without knowing and using languages, I would lose so much of the rewarding experiences that languages offer, such as interacting with others and expressing myself.

One part of Emory’s student culture that has not changed ever since my arrival is the library’s ambiance. The Woodruff library is a community space, where students come to study and socialize. You walk in the library and check in, using your Emory card. In passing the second floor, each study table has its own designated language including students from Korea, China, Costa Rica, Puerto Rica, India, etc. The Woodruff library is one example of a community where different languages thrive and develop. Here at Emory, languages, traditions, sciences, mathematics, and liberal arts converge. In this way, no matter where you are from, there is an opportunity to learn, experiment, and excel in the liberal arts.

Multilingualism at Emory’s Starbucks

While a liberal arts education struggles to overcome the high demand of students pursuing a STEM-related career, a decline in foreign language education can have devastating effects for future generations, especially since knowing a foreign language is becoming ever more essential. If foreign languages are sustained and improved in a liberal arts education, then a multicultural education is created. Colleges need to recognize the importance of their foreign language education programs to avoid becoming linguistically and culturally lacking. When students have access to a liberal arts education that requires foreign language requirements, they have a better chance at becoming global citizens, enriching the world with diversity.

I believe students in a liberal arts education must recognize the importance of sustaining foreign language education by actively using different languages and participating in platforming cultural clubs throughout campus. If students show increased demonstration of interest and need for expansion of cultures and languages in their education, then parents, faculty members and personnel in higher institutions can lobby for language programs anywhere.

As much as I advocate exploring languages and cultures during one’s time in undergrad, the liberal arts education is not for everyone. For me however, the implementation of foreign languages in a liberal arts education is critical to a student’s growth and development. Not only do foreign languages build a whole new level of understanding in connecting with people, it deepens my understanding of my personal identity. Learning a new language paves the way for creating experiences and finding similarities and differences among the people that I come into contact with. It is not only about acknowledging and respecting those differences with the people that we come across, but it is more so recognizing the similarities within those differences. At the end of the day, implementing the study of foreign languages and cultures has its base in taking risks to seek experiences that are outside of one’s comfort zone. I am not simply encouraging a “call to action,” in learning about foreign cultures, but more so, a call to “self-reflection” about what a liberal arts education should encourage students to explore.

Finding people in the humanities

The belief that it is essential for individuals to be capable of dealing with complexity and diversity is at the core of a liberal arts education. There is no better way to gain the tools necessary for approaching the world’s complexity and diversity than through the study of foreign languages and cultures. On the surface, studying foreign languages enables one to communicate with a broader range of people through oral and written communication. Beyond this, language not only gives us communication skills, but also the ability to problem solve, an understanding of the world’s complexity, and, perhaps most significantly, empathy. Studying and using foreign languages enables one to see the world through the eyes of others, understanding how different cultural contexts shape beliefs, perspectives, and values, allowing us to see the commonalities among people across cultural and national borders.

I study foreign languages not just to learn about languages’ particularities, but to use the language to communicate. This is both a practical tool and, inevitably, a method of building my ability to problem-solve and navigate cultural differences. When I jumped into a Beijing taxi with only the English name of my destination and no app to translate directions, I had to find a way to tell my driver who spoke no English where I was going. Not only that, I needed the cultural knowledge to understand why the driver asked me why I wasn’t yet married, offer to introduce me to his nephew, and ask if I had ever shot anyone because I was American. Without some previous familiarity with Chinese culture and society, this conversation would have offended or even insulted me. However, years of learning and using foreign languages at all levels of proficiency had prepared me to approach this situation with confidence and positivity. Instead of an uncomfortable situation, this conversation became an opportunity to connect with my driver and, when all else fails, use charades to get my points across.

This is a picture of an address I showed to my taxi driver in Beijing on my first day in the city.

This is a picture of directions I would show to taxi drivers in Beijing when I had no idea how to get where I needed to go.

When I reflect on the knowledge and skills I have gained over the past three years at Emory, my study of languages and cultures stand out as essential to my personal and academic development. Studying languages has enabled me to directly connect with others both at Emory and abroad, and such connections have been my most significant source of learning. While I have studied anthropology, education, history, and literature in my classes, communicating with others through language has allowed me to put tangible faces to those to whom these subjects pertain. After all, humans, or people, are at the core of the humanities, and language is our key to connecting with and understanding people.

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!

Cultural Education at a Liberal Arts Institution

“Why is the study of foreign languages and cultures essential to a liberal arts education?”

The study of foreign language and culture is forever linked with liberal arts education, in my eyes. In fact, I was a little confused when thinking about how to approach this question. The goal of a liberal arts education is to verse its students in several forms of study, so it seems logical that foreign language and culture is a part of this goal. The fact that people are challenging the connection of cultural education to the liberal arts education is extremely perplexing. Cultural education allows people to step outside of themselves and learn to appreciate different approaches to life. This skill is essential to personal development, and cultural education is one of the most effective ways in cultivating it. 

In the public school system, especially K-12, we see a decline in liberal arts education overall, not to mention the removal of cultural classes in schools. The belief that students who focus more on their sciences and maths without developing their own points of view and becoming aware of the world around them is detrimental to our youth’s overall development. 

Foreign language and culture specifically need to be emphasized in liberal arts institutions and others because while it is great for personal development, it also prepares students for the global workplace we live in. It will only get more diverse from here, and in order to be prepared for that, cultural education is of the essence. It allows students to broaden their horizons and immerse themselves in the lives of those around them. Some people question the importance of this experience, but it can be a humbling experience for many. Knowing that the way you live, speak, and eat are not the only ways nor the best ways is something that seems to be lacking in Western cultures. Even if fluency in another language is not the goal of every student, exposing themselves to other languages and the cultures that speak them is still valuable. Instead of viewing these things with biases or misjudgments, a person can see that culture or language for what it is – unique and important in its own way. 

During my time learning Spanish and Hispanic culture, I know first-hand the newfound knowledge and appreciation that comes with themes of global competency. I have seen how similar, yet different other countries are and how that contradictory statement is what makes the world so interesting. Learning Spanish has taught me to be more flexible, think quickly, and open-minded. While some of these traits can be developed by other means, foreign language and culture will ingrain these concepts so deeply into a person that they do not even realize how much they’ve changed.

Foreign language and culture in the liberal arts education is a necessity. It pushes the narrative that liberal arts is already encouraging: learn to be a balanced person by experiencing each aspect of your realm of study, and use that to be creative. Removing oneself from what they are comfortable with, such as their native language or customs, is an encounter every student should have, liberal arts or not.








A Costa Rican man in Sarchí, Costa Rica creating a traditional painting.

Learning languages is as valuable as memorizing organic compounds!

When I commenced my four-year journey at Emory, I was one of the many “undeclared” or “undecided” types of incoming students. I knew that I had greatly enjoyed studying French in high school, and there was something about learning languages that captivated me. My family, on the other hand, seemed to think that studying business might be more practical than studying languages. I did not quite figure out how to enroll in Financial Accounting over the summer, but thankfully I did figure out how to enroll in French 310 and Ling 101. One year later, I officially declared my French Studies and Linguistics double majors.

While it is true that not all students choose to focus their studies on foreign languages and cultures, I have seen the immense benefits that students of all disciplines enjoy when they study these subjects. In a rapidly globalizing context, students need to develop intercultural communication skills as much as they need to memorize organic compounds. In the United States and elsewhere, medical professionals often encounter patients from a multitude of linguistic and cultural backgrounds. Doctors can provide more comprehensive treatment when they share the same linguistic code as their patients, or at least when the have the empathy to recognize that the patient may have difficulties communicating their situation in the doctor’s primary language. Learning foreign languages can also teach students to think through multiple different cultural lenses. Nurses who can recognize the cultural norms that influence the beliefs and behavior of their patients also provide stronger treatment. Studying foreign languages and cultures allows students to improve the way in which they connect with a wide variety of people, which serves as just one advantage of valorizing this study in a liberal arts education.

Although English is the predominant language at Emory, English is not the only language spoken or signed at Emory, and English is certainly not the only language of academia. A liberal arts education ought to encourage, if not require, students to approach learning from a multitude of perspectives. Students ought to question the definitiveness of knowledge presented as fact in class, identify alternative theories, and analyze the merits and issues of all postulated theories. One of the most effective means of finding other perspectives is by studying the scholarship produced in countries outside of the U.S., and outside of the occidental tradition. Learning foreign languages best equips students to comprehend and critically evaluate non-English sources, both in their original and in their translated forms. Even in their translated forms, these sources speak more clearly to those who have studied the culture and history intertwined with the text’s language.

In my experience at Emory, I have taken a total of 26 language, culture, and linguistics courses. These course have allowed me to work in a multilingual workplace, study in another continent, conduct research in another language, and make friends from half way across the world. Beyond these treasured experiences, language learning has transformed my daily actions. Struggling to express my thoughts in a foreign tongue has made me more understanding, especially to English language learners. Learning about other countries’ ecological efforts has shaped the extent to which I recycle, do laundry, and take public transportation. Studying foreign languages has added multiple ways of thinking to my repertoire, which has opened doors for enriching opportunities inside and outside of the classroom. I cannot imagine my liberal arts education without the study of foreign languages and cultures…

This photo was taken on a hiking trip that I went on with friends from Laos, Japan, and France while studying abroad in Paris.

Importance of Learning Foriegn Language: Sophie Juback

A liberal arts educational is a beneficial program to incorporate and learn new skills and information that may be outside your normal realm of education. The study of foreign languages and cultures is essential in a liberal arts education because it expands your knowledge outside of your major and the typical subjects studied, gives you a skill that is applicable in countries outside of your own, and promotes your ability to build relationships at an international level.

Studying foreign language lets you implement and learn about subjects outside of your major. This is important because many practices pull from outside disciplines. It is important to study language because it is foundation of culture is built on. These days in such a competitive market, employees knowledgeable of many cultures are highly valued. It is practical to learn about customs and languages outside of your own because in a typical work space you work with other people in various disciplines and parts of the world, which means that we need to be able to understand and collaborate with diverse groups in order to work effectively.

As the world develops, international communication becomes more accessible due to the advancement in technology. It is common for a job to call for a partnership with other fields outside of your current country. To advance a specific field, it is vital to collaborate and work with others within and outside of the field, which includes other countries. In order to work well with others, we must learn about their language and culture. Even if you are not interacting with those native to the particular country of your studies, you still have acquired skills that help you better understand ideas and customs that may be foreign to you. Understanding foreign cultures and customs aids in the development of creating relationships. It is important to be informed on cultures throughout the world and about how there is not one set way of living and that there are advantages to the way each culture functions. You could learn from these cultures and introduce these values that are found in foreign cultures within your own life and business to advance and better yourself and others.

It also helps advance your own communication skills by learning about new ways that another culture communicates to others casually to build global relationships. Studying a foreign language is a key in the modern world because it shows a high degree of education and worldliness. In recent times more and more political leaders are bilingual or multi-lingual. This is because learning a foreign language shows the student’s respect towards the language and culture they are studying. Language and culture are interwoven very tightly, so that the first steps in understanding a foreign culture is to learn their language and view on life with their lens and words. Language itself is often politicized, just as displayed in the recent xenophobic fear of rising Spanish speakers in America, the forced removal of Tibetan language, and subsequent ‘re-education’ of Chinese in present day Sichuan, China. The flame of nationalism is often fanned by pride behind a single language and therefore an identity. Trying to emphasize and put enough context into language can be difficult. But language itself is so powerful, since it is the single thing that makes us different than any other organism on earth.

Exploring Japanese restaurants with my family