There are many benefits of learning more than one language. For example, older adults have been shown to be less likely to develop dementia. In addition, the bilingual brain improves the elimination of distractions and learning many languages improves creativity. The tests also show that learning other languages is easier than learning the first one. Unfortunately, not all American universities consider learning a language a worthwhile investment. Why is studying a foreign language important at university level?
As an applied linguist, I study how learning multiple languages can have cognitive and emotional benefits. One of these benefits, which is not obvious, is that learning languages improves tolerance. This accesses in 2 important ways. The first is that it opens people’s eyes to a way of doing things other than their own which is called cultural competence. The second is related to a person’s level of comfort when dealing with unfamiliar situations or tolerance for ambiguity.
Acquiring an intercultural vision Cultural
competence is the key to prosper in an increasingly globalized world. Specifically, how does learning languages improve cultural competence? Psychologist Robert Sternberg’s research on intelligence describes different types of intelligence and how they relate to language learning as adults. What it refers to practical intelligence is similar to social intelligence in which individuals are helped to learn non-explicit information from their environment including meaningful gestures or other social signs.
Learning foreign languages reduces social anxiety.
Learning languages inevitably involves learning different cultures. Students gather ideas about culture both in the language course and through significant immersion experiences. Researchers Hanh Thi Nguyen and Guy Kellogg have shown that when students learn another language, they develop new ways of understanding culture through the analysis of cultural stereotypes. They explain that learning a second language involves acquiring not only linguistic forms but also ways of thinking and behaving . With the help of a teacher, students can seriously think about the stereotypes of different cultures regarding food, appearance and conversation style.
Dealing with the Unknown
The second way in which learning languages as adults increases tolerance is related to a person’s level of comfort when it comes to tolerance of ambiguity.
Someone with a high tolerance of ambiguity finds unfamiliar situations exciting rather than frightening. My research on motivation, anxiety and beliefs indicates that knowledge of languages improves people’s ambiguity tolerance, especially when more than one foreign language is included.
It is not difficult to understand why it can be so. Conversations in a foreign language will inevitably involve unknown words. It would not be a successful conversation if one of the interlocutors stopped to say wait I don’t know that word. Let me look at the dictionary. Those with a high tolerance of ambiguity would feel comfortable continuing the conversation despite the unfamiliar words involved. Applied linguists Jean-Marc Dewaele and Li Wei also study the tolerance of ambiguity and have indicated that those with experience in learning more than one foreign language as a setting have more ambiguity tolerance.
What changes with understanding
A high tolerance for ambiguity brings many advantages. Help students become less anxious in social interactions and subsequent language learning experiences. Not incredibly the more experiences a person with knowledge of languages has, the more comfortable the person with this ambiguity will be. And that’s not all. Individuals with higher levels of tolerance for ambiguity have also been found to be more entrepreneurial (they are more optimistic, innovative and do not mind taking risks). In the last period, universities are frequently judged on the salaries of their graduates. Taking a step further based on the relationship of ambiguity tolerance and entrepreneurial intention, greater ambiguity tolerance could lead to higher wages for graduates who in turn, I believe, could help increase funding for universities that require foreign language study. Those who have dedicated their lives to theorising and teaching languages would say it’s not for the money. But maybe yes.
Knowledge of languages in advanced education
Many American universities have minimal language requirements which often vary from student’s faculty. However, students can usually renounce the request by taking an entrance test or providing other skills tests. Contrary to this trend, Princeton recently announced that all students, regardless of their ability, would be required to study an additional language when they enter university. I would be in favor of more universities to follow Princeton’s example, as university-level language study could lead to greater tolerance of the norms of cultural difference represented in American society which desperately needs in the recent political climate with large waves of hate crime in university campuses across the nation. Knowledge of different languages is crucial to becoming globalized citizens. As former education secretary Arne Duncan noted, our country needs to create a future where all Americans understand that speaking more than one language is allowing our country to compete successfully and work collectively with partners. Business in the world Considering the evidence that studying adult languages increases tolerance in 2 important ways, the question shouldn’t be why universities require the study of foreign languages? But rather why not in the world? Our country needs to create a future where all Americans understand that speaking more than one language is allowing our country to compete successfully and work collectively with business partners around the world. Considering the evidence that studying adult languages increases the tolerance in 2 important ways, the question shouldn’t be why do universities require the study of foreign languages? But rather why not in the world? Our country needs to create a future where all Americans understand that speaking more than one language is allowing our country to compete successfully and work collectively with business partners around the world. Considering the evidence that studying adult languages increases the tolerance in 2 important ways, the question shouldn’t be why do universities require the study of foreign languages? But rather why not in the world?