Why learn a foreign language?

What Is The Purpose Of Foreign Language Education? asks Ta-Nehisi Coates, who’s studying French, in The Atlantic.

Are we using foreign language as kind of weed-out for college? What is the ultimate goal?

I had to demonstrate knowledge of a foreign language to earn a degree in English back in the ’70s. They said understanding a foreign language would help me understand the structure of English. Je n’en suis pas persuadé.

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  1. Well of course learning other Indo-European languages will help a person understand the structure of English, in particular how it evolved. However at present that knowledge has little practical value in the US. Maybe later when 50% of the US population speaks Spanish as their native language things will be different.

    • Crimson Wife says:

      I was recently perusing job vacancies in a field that I am considering going into when my children are older and more independent. Many of them called for fluency in English and either Spanish or Mandarin. I am seriously thinking about trying to learn Spanish in order to make myself a more attractive candidate.

  2. Hmm. Foreign language can be used as a weed-out for college (different universities use it to different extents). In that sense it’s like math — if you’re willing to knock yourself out for something you won’t or may not use to this extent again, that says something about your perseverance (as well as some basic smarts, in theory). But foreign language also has some basic utility in making you step outside yourself, exposing you to a different culture, and making your brain work in a different way — on top of enabling you to function in a different country.

  3. GEORGE LARSON says:

    Long ago i was told that learning a foreign laguage was a path to learning a foreign culture and was one of the goals of a liberal education.

    • Roger Sweeny says:

      Ah, but did you believe it? And did it work out that way for you?

      • George Larson says:

        Yes, I did believe it, but in my opinion taking one good class in Cultural Anthropology was a better and faster way to learn about foreign cultures. Even reading a good medieval or ancient history account was better than my 4 years of French. Some of my friends strongly disagree with me on this. I think I was lucky taking the Anthro course I did at the time I did.

  4. I know my early French and in college, Spanish taught me more about the structure of English Language than my English classes taught me. English structure bored me in my English classes, but I needed it to get good grades in my foreign language classes.

    Parece bien para mi.