Learning Another Language

By Yipei Zhou

We can now receive Italian television in our homes via satellite dishes; we can phone Thailand as easily as calling out of state, and we can correspond instantaneously using a fax machine with almost anyone in the world. Our stores are filled with products from around the world, many in the original packaging. Our cities are full of restaurants, coffeehouses, newspapers, radio and TV stations, and social centers for different ethnic groups. With so many dramatic examples of cultural and business interchange, it is easy to see there are so many opportunities to use foreign language.

Other languages have always been keys that open doors and provide new opportunities. It is still true. However, languages have done more than that. Although languages have brought us together, both here and abroad, they also sometimes have threatened to tear us apart. Language is so integral to every aspect to our life that understanding it is not only instantaneous communication but also is accepting and acting on the reality of our environment.

The geographic isolation of the United States and the growing importance of English in the world contributed to giving Americans a false sense of security. As a result, Americans developed an image as the people who cannot say even the most rudimentary phrase in any other language. There is an old linguistics joke: What do you call a person who speaks three languages? A trilingual. Two languages? A bilingual. One language? You guessed it, an American.

This paper is specific for American college students. I will list five reasons why learning another language is important for college students, and I will also give several tips to show them that learning a second language is not so hard, instead, it’s easy and fun.

First, mastery of foreign languages gives a student tangible advantages in the job market, career advancement and business opportunity because of one’s increased communication skills.

Although a second language skills is not generally required to get a job, the reality of the business world implies a need for foreign language skills and the need is becoming stronger and stronger. Having language skills definitely gives a candidate the edge when qualifications appear to be equal. While knowledge of a second language may not be a prerequisite for employment, having a foreign language can make you stand above a group of monolingual job applicants.

Not long ago learning a foreign language was considered to be merely a part of a liberal education or an intellectual exercise through the study of grammar and literature. People assumed that anyone who studied a language as a major field was going to be either a teacher or a translator and had no other career options. It is not true anymore. New technology links the world as never before. It’s now a true "global village" where countries are only seconds away by fax or phone or satellite link. High-tech advances make foreign markets as close as our cross-town branch office. The inflow of large amounts of foreign capital to the United States, increased internationalization and an expanded awareness of the need to conduct business internationally. A second language is now becoming a vital part of the basic preparation for an increasing number of careers. Even in those cases where the knowledge of a second language does not help graduates obtain a first job, many report that their foreign language skills often enhance their mobility and improve their chances for promotion (Weatherford 3).

Nowadays large corporations usually have international branches or divisions, and they deal with foreign investors and buyers on a daily basis. Even small business in the United States are often getting into markets where the medium of exchange is the mark, the yen, the peso, or the pound etc. Therefore, sending employees to oversea becomes more and more often. Moreover, these overseas assignments are becoming increasingly important to advancement within executive ranks. The executives stationed in another country no longer need fear being "out of sight and out of mind." He or she can be sure that the overseas effort is central to the company’s plan for success, and that promotions often follow or accompany an assignment abroad.

However, a lot of expatriates failed to meet their employer’s expectations because of their lack of foreign language skills and cultural experience. Studies shows that, in the last decade, as many as one-third of expatriates sent on international assignments have returned home early. Another one-third are "brown-outs"—they stay for the duration, but don’t achieve the corporation’s objectives (Axtell and Briggs 213). According to J. Stewart Black, a professor at the American Graduate School or International Management, a company will probably spend three to five times an employee’s base salary to place, sustain, and retrieve him or her and his or her family. A typical, successful three-year assignment can cost a company as much as $1 million (Axtell and Briggs 213). Assignment failure can also affect the expatriate and his or her family personally, from coping with the lack of a home or a job on return, to depression, marital discord—even divorce or alcoholism.

The solution for this problem is "Cross-cultural and language training". Such training equips one with the awareness, skills, tools, and resources needed to perform effectively across national and cultural boundaries. However, language training requires much more time. That’s why it’s important for college students to develop their foreign language skills while they are in school. Research shows that cross-cultural and language training dramatically increases one’s chances of success on an international assignment—at home as well as at work. Because they increase self-sufficiency and confidence, corporate time and money are saved by increasing productivity, making the employee aware of how and where to ask for help, and readying them and their family for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity (Axtell and Briggs 213-214).

Promotions often follow successful oversea assignments, because of increased confidence from the management. If an employee can succeed in a difficult overseas environment, then it’s relatively easier to deal with issues at home.

Knowing the principal language of the country can help employees posted abroad to build effective relationships, mutual understanding and trust with the their foreign counterpart. Knowing the language can also help you to gain cultural insights to know what to do and what not to do. For example, by learning Japanese, Vivien Godfrey, an international marketing executive, knew even little things like correct seating plans in conference rooms. These things really enhanced her credibility with Japanese business partners and added to her success overseas (Axtell and Briggs 215). The employee at the home office who can communicate well with foreign clients over the telephone or by fax machine is an obvious asset to the firm. Such persons build a niche for themselves in the firm. They find themselves included in the "loop" in which key company business issues are discussed.

Maybe one would argue that English still is the international language of business, and the American dollar still talks clearly in the world marketplace. This is true to a certain extent. However, 95 percent of the world lives somewhere other than the Unite States, 80 percent of the world speak languages other than English. It’s a big world out there. Even these people that speak English as a second language would prefer to converse, to do business, and to negotiate in their native tongue (Seelye and Day)?

Some might argue that instead of working for an international company after graduation, they would just work for a company that doesn’t deal with foreign business at all. Well you never know whether you will deal with international business or not. And it’s better to be prepared. Be aware! Businesses that are not adequately prepared to meet the cultural and linguistic needs of their foreign clientele very often lose the big account. For example, "when General Motors marketed its Chevrolet Nova in Puerto Rico and Latin America, no one realized that Nova, when spoken as two words in Spanish, means "It doesn’t go." Sales were quite low until the name was changed for greater appeal!" (Hamayan 3)

The second reason to learn another language is knowing other languages can enhance the enjoyment of travel abroad and reduces frustration and isolation during travel in other countries and helps better understand other cultures.

It is a very common and growing desire of young American people to travel abroad. As the globe shrinks at an unprecedented pace, large numbers of people travel to Europe, South America, Asia, and even Africa with increasing frequency for both work and pleasure. Certainly it is possible to travel in foreign lands without knowing the language. However, without the foundation of some common language, communication is either crude gesture and pantomime or clinical data transfer devoid of any warmth, humor, or compassion. With shared language, we reach across enormous cultural boundaries. The traveler who knows the language of the country not only has an easier time solving everyday problems associated with travel, but also has a more pleasant experience and greater understanding both of the people of the foreign country and of their culture.

Take myself for example, four years ago I visited the United States for the first time as a tourist. I had anticipated the trip for very long time. I wanted it to be a perfect journey, so I planned every single detail. I still remember how excited I was when I stepped out of the plane. However, I miscalculated one important factor: my English skills. Without any real world practice, what I learned from English class was only enough to keep me out of trouble with frequent help of body language. I could hardly carry out any meaningful conversation with people. Even though I visited several interesting places, saw and experienced a lot of new exciting things, I was often frustrated by the fact that I missed a lot of fun and meaningful experience because I didn’t know the language well enough. Overall, it was still a fun trip, but it could have been much better had I known English well.

Third, knowing other languages can certainly improve one’s social life through making multicultural friends, therefore building his or her self-esteem, becoming more well-rounded and enjoying life more.

Imagine if you can read a famous novel in a foreign language, talk fluently with foreigners in their own language, or go to a restaurant and order food for your friends and yourself in a foreign language. You can certainly make more friends with help from your language skills, thus improving your social life. With more friends and activities, you will feel more needed and more engaged with things around you. All of these are confidence builders, and knowing another language can only help.

Fourth, research also shows that foreign language study increases both cognitive development and academic achievement.

Research suggests that language learning have numerous applications of both a practical and a humanistic nature. Researchers as well as language educators still recognize that spin-off benefits accrue from foreign language study for other academic areas:

Researchers found that students who had taken a foreign language in high school had a significantly higher grade point average in all high school subjects as well as in freshman English courses in college. In addition, data from the Admission Testing Program of the College Board show a definite positive correlation between Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) scores and the study of foreign languages. In one recent test group, for example, students who had taken no foreign language in high school achieved a mean score of 366 on the verbal portion of the SAT, and 409 on the math portion. Students who had taken only one year of a foreign language had slightly higher scores (378 and 416), whereas students with two years of a foreign language showed more dramatic increases (417 and 463). Each additional year of language study brought a further rise in scores, with students who had studied a language for five years or more achieving an average of 504 on the verbal and 535 on the math portion of the exam (Weatherford 4).

Fifth, another significant benefit that comes with knowing another language is having the option of going abroad to pursue college degree. Education abroad can enrich and diversify U.S. degree studies by offering courses, programs, and academic learning of a sort often not possible on the home campus yet of a standard which earns home campus academic credit. Education abroad provides American students with an opportunity they cannot experience at home—to learn about their own Americanness, to immerse themselves in a foreign culture, and to experience first-hand the emerging global culture. Education abroad can sharpen and deepen career preparation by building future workplace skills of value to employers in the global marketplace. Education abroad can also deepen personal and intellectual growth and social maturity, foster independent thinking, and build self-confidence.

By now I hope I have convinced you how important it is to learn foreign languages. The next issue is how to get started if you haven’t done so. Well, it’s actually not as intimidating as you might have imagined. Learning foreign languages is not a mystery. With proper method it can be easy and even fun. You can start with take one class; buy one book, read one chapter. Take one step at a time, because it’s not an overnight process.

How to choose a book to start is very important. Mr. Shaun Roundy, a college English teacher at Utah Valley State College, who masters six foreign languages, told me during an interview: "Try avoid high school language texts at any cost. They are terrible. They’re hard to use and confusing. They make learning a second language seems much harder than it has to be. There is a series of books by Berlitz I’d recommend them to anyone who wants to pick up a foreign language. They explain things very clearly. They make you feel learning a language is easy. You can find them at any bookstore."

Probably you will say you are willing to learn it, but you are not smart enough to learn another language, you just can’t make it. It maybe true that for some people learning another language is difficult. But that doesn’t necessary mean that these people don’t have the talent. Sometimes, it’s just because they haven’t found an efficient way to learn it.

Research strongly indicates that intelligence plays only a minor role in predicting the achievement of foreign language proficiency (Hamayan 4). So don’t be afraid that you cannot grasp another language. A positive attitude toward other languages and culture, an openness and flexibility in learning style, and a high level of motivation are the most important qualities a student can bring to the foreign language learning experience.

Perhaps you still think it is difficult for you to learn a second language because you have already passed the "optimal age". Common sense observations have posed a firm answer: younger is better. Recent studies have challenged this claim:

In global judgments of proficiency, the tendency is to compare the second language learner with a native speaking peer. Thus, children may be assessed in terms of their ability to communicate on the playground, while adults would be required to participate in mature conversations and use the language to manage their lives, including, therefore, competence with the literate forms of the language. When attention is paid to these aspects of proficiency required by the two age groups, comparisons between adults and children show quite different patterns. In many cases, the usual "child advantage" disappears, and for some comparisons, it is in fact the adult, or at least the more mature learners, who display greater competence and greater efficiency of learning (The International Encyclopedia of Education 1924).

As an adult, your maturity and study habits can also help you to overcome a lot. Remember! Don’t be embarrassed, don’t worry too much, be brave like these kids. Talk a lot in the language you are learning, and you will feel your improvement.

Contrary to a lot of people’s belief, learning another language can be fun and easy.

David Mckee who teaches Japanese in Payson High School was named Utah’s foreign language teacher of the year in 1992 for his innovations in teaching Japanese. His success is mainly because of his simple teaching style: LEARNING SHOULD BE FUN. "All I try to do is monitor and adjust the kids all the time to a point where they are enjoying what they do," Mckee said. " If they can learn Japanese and think it’s fun, then I am doing what I should be doing, and the students are learning." (Poyfair B1) His students think his class is fun, and every time they leave the class they feel they have learned something.

You can create fun by yourself, too. Using pictures of anything with various objects to memorize words or short sentences. You can also memorize words by doing things relate to the word. For example, if you want to memorize "helicopter" in another language, you can look up when you read out the word. Here I just give some suggestions; of course, you can have your own ways as long as they make you feel interesting and easy to memorize new words.

Of course, it’s impossible to learn a second language fluently overnight. That’s unreasonable in most cases. On the other hand, anyone who can say "Supercalifragilisticexpialodocious" can certainly learn "Where’s the beach" in any other language on earth.

Learning another language can be easy and fun. It can give you more opportunity in your career and improve your social life, enhance enjoyment of travel abroad; knowing other languages can also increase both cognitive development and academic achievement. Moreover, language is such an integral part of our day-to-day life that mastering it will not only increase the communication but also is reacting to the globalization trend. So why not start today to learn a foreign language?


Works cited

Axtell, Roger E., and Tami Briggs. Do’s and Taboos Around the World for Women in Business. New York: Willey, 1997.

"Foreign Language Education." The International Encyclopedia of Education. 1985 ed.

Hamayan, Else. "The Need for Foreign Language Competence in the United States." Eric Digest November 1986.

Poyfair, Patrick D. Deseret News January 31, 1995: B1.

Seelye, H. Ned., and Laurence J. Day. Careers for foreign language aficionados & other multilingual types. Lincolnwood: VGM Career Horizons, 1992.

Weatherford, H. Jarold. "Personal Benefits of Foreign Language Study." Eric Digest October 1986.


Annotated Bibliography

Axtell, Roger E., and Tami Briggs. Do’s and Taboos Around the World for Women in Business. New York: Willey, 1997.

This book mainly teaches women how to be success in the business world. In one chapter, it mentions that it’s necessary to get cross-cultural and language training.

Brecht, Richard D., and Ronald A. Walton. "Policy issues in foreign language and study abroad." The annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. March 1994: 213-225.

This articles states part of special issue on foreign language policy.

Crispell, Diane. "Speaking in other tongues: in an English-centric culture, some Americans are taking a cue from immigrants and becoming linguistically advantaged."" American Demographics. January 1997: 12-14.

This article states that the growing economic importance of learning a second language signifies increasing opportunities in fields related to language acquisition.

DeGalan Julie and Stephen Lambert. Great Jobs for Foreign Language Majors. Lincolnwood: VGM Career Horizons, 1994.

This book teaches people what can they do with a degree in foreign languages. There are a lot of options that surprise people.

"Foreign Language Education." Encyclopedia of Educational Research. 1990 ed.

This article advises that foreign languages must have a place in the curriculum that is based on its contribution to human development rather than the development of language features.

"Foreign Language Education." The International Encyclopedia of Education. 1985 ed.

This article discusses about foreign language methodology and different theories of learning, language, linguistics, and teaching.

Hamayan, Else. "The Need for Foreign Language Competence in the United States." Eric Digest November 1986.

This article talks about Americans generally lack foreign language competence, and their exposure to foreign languages in the United States is inadequate.

Hoffa, William. "Crediting Study Abroad." Transitions Abroad. October 1997.

This article talks about the benefits of education abroad.

Louis, Julian. "Foreign Exchange." Travel-Holiday. October 1994: 105.

This article suggests that there are a wide variety of learning tools available for those seeking to learn a second language for a trip to a foreign country.

Mohr Kathleen A.J. "Making a Place for Foreign Students in class." Education Digest. May 1994: 44-45.

This article suggests that the language program should consider the difficulties of learning a second language and the cultural barriers that hinder this process.

Poyfair, Patrick D. Deseret News January 31, 1995: B1.

This article talks about David Mckee, who teaches Japanese, try to teach his students in a fun way and got good results.

Robinson, Deborah Wilburn and Diane W. Birckbichler. "MLJ reviews." Modern Language Journal. Spring 1997:113.

This article review the book ‘Foreign Language Learning: The Journey of a Lifetime,’ by Richard Donato and Robert M. Terry.

Seelye, H. Ned., and Laurence J. Day. Careers for foreign language aficionados & other multilingual types. Lincolnwood: VGM Career Horizons, 1992.

This article talks about career opportunities for foreign language speakers.

Sparks, Richard L., and Leonore Ganschow. "A Strong Inference Approach to Causal

Factors in Foreign Language Learning." Modern Language Journal. Summer 1995:235.

This article argues that language aptitude is likely to provide the primary source of variance in foreign language learning.

Weatherford, H. Jarold. "Personal Benefits of Foreign Language Study." Eric Digest October 1986.

This article tells people there is an increasing awareness of the usefulness of foreign language training in a number of seemingly diverse areas.



















  1. The specific purpose of the paper is to persuasive college students to learn foreign languages.
  2. The specific audience is American college students. Because I am a college student too. I think it’s easy to communicate with them, and they can get the most benefits from this paper.
  3. I listed five major reasons to state why learning another language is important to college students. Especially, I put a lot of emphasis on the advantages American college students can get for their future careers by learning foreign languages.
  4. English is an international language and it is very important in the world, so American people usually think it’s not necessary for them to learn a foreign language. Moreover, students probably feel it’s difficult to learn another language. They don’t have enough time, they are not young enough etc. I think I overcome these barriers pretty well.
  5. In my paper, I use sentence variety, action verbs and concrete details.
  6. I got some ideas from my research and also some statistics and supportive examples.
  7. I worked very hard, and put a lot of time and effort on this paper. The effort alone deserves an "A". I don’t hate this question. It’s a fair question.
  8. Yes.
  9. Yes.