Foreign Studies Will Make you a Better Applicant, Better Person
Originally written for the MSU Exponent.


Notice the Japanese above. I could have either said Montana State University is excellent, or made an inappropriate comment about your mother. Only those with some foreign language under their belts would know which.

As this summer edition sits on distribution shelves, several thousand students will cycle through orientations and embark on the most flexible, in-depth period of learning in their life. Most high schools can never aspire to present the learning flexibility universities provide, and one of those opportunities that no student should pass up is the chance to study a foreign language and culture.

First, let’s put things in your Dad’s perspective: “What are you going to do with foreign language?” The field of international business has expanded at a rapid rate in recent years. Gone are the days when foreign language students could only become interpreters and teachers. Now, technical and business careers create a high demand for those fluent in a second language — possibly because of the increasing globalization of formerly domestic career paths.

Being able to list a second language on a job application or resume can give you a quick leg up on another applicant who can’t. Even if you aim for starting your own business, second language fluency opens up avenues for business not available otherwise. In addition, those fluent in a second language tend to possess outstanding communication skills, both written and oral, which benefits one’s career.

A study published by the Modern Language Journal found students who studied foreign languages boasted higher verbal scores on the SAT compared to those who didn’t. Study of second languages helps students to better understand the composition and function of language, making them a more effective communicator in their native tongue.

Practical applications aside, studying foreign language and culture gives students a broader, more international perspective on their education. MSU already makes diversified perspectives in education a priority. The Diversity CORE credit is in place to do just that. In addition, the Honors degree track requires a year of foreign language for graduation.

Dr. Peter Tillack, Assistant Professor of Japanese in MSU’s Department of Modern Languages, feels studying foreign cultures is one of the steps to becoming truly educated. Tillack argues that “by studying a foreign culture, you learn to look at yourself through the eyes of the ‘other.’ You put yourself in a self aware position … True education is self awareness.”

Seeing yourself and your nation in a foreign perspective opens the gateway to becoming a “Citizen of the World.” Learning another nation’s language and culture creates an aura of understanding between people hailing from separate countries, or even separate continents. No longer do they see each other as strange foreigners speaking funny gibberish, but what they actually are: fellow people partaking in the same human experience.

Take the nations and numerous ethnic groups of the Middle East for example. It is, in a very callous way, easy for Americans to support waging war on them when they’re seen as enemy “hadjis.” Many Americans still imagine China as a great “Red Dragon” coming to take over America, instead of a country developing its economy and resources just like the United States once did. With some international understanding, our fellow world citizens outside our borders can become our partners and allies — not enemies.

If studying the foreign is something that appeals to you, consider the many fine language and foreign study courses available at Montana State University offered through the Department of Modern Languages. Language and culture courses are available for French, German, Arabic, Japanese, Mandarin Chinese and Spanish. In addition, study abroad programs are available for over 40 countries across the world.

Even if foreign studies amount to nothing more than a few credits toward a degree, they are an invaluable educational experience that should not be passed up. The blank edges of the map have been filled in. International travel and communication continues to improve every day. Soon enough, knowledge of one’s native tongue and culture will not be enough on its own. Consider studying the foreign. Dr. Tillack encourages students to “take a class, even if your curriculum is rigid. Take a class that challenges your place in the world.”

And yes, I said Montana State was excellent.