Calvin College Chimes

Why learning a foreign language is important

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In recent years enrollments in foreign language courses have decreased rather dramatically across the U.S. Unfortunately, Calvin College is no exception. There is a declining belief in the value of the humanities and of a liberal arts education. This is extremely unfortunate, coming as it does at a time when it is more important than ever for us to understand each other across countries and cultures in an increasingly connected world. The U.S. remains the dominant force in the world, politically, economically and culturally. Yet Americans don’t make much of an effort to understand the people of other countries. We don’t speak their language, literally or figuratively.

Learning a language other than English has a great many benefits. Given the global reach of all major U.S. companies, there are satisfying and lucrative jobs for those who can combine a knowledge of business, engineering or computers with proficiency in a foreign language. There is also meaningful work in government, law, teaching and missions, as well as in medicine and the sciences for those who know at least one foreign language well.

For Christians, who seek to be Kingdom builders, knowing the language of others helps create special bonds with people across ethnicities and cultures, even if those others speak English quite fluently. The heart of Jesus’ message to us is to love our neighbor as ourselves. To truly love our neighbor, we need to understand them. And that begins with understanding something of their language and culture. Our “neighbor” in this country may well be someone who speaks a language other than English at home. But in this globally connected world, everyone else is ultimately our neighbor.

I urge students on this campus to seriously consider taking as many world language courses as you can fit into your very full schedules. My hope is that academic advisors across disciplines will also advocate for their advisees to pursue foreign language study.

If we truly believe in the value of a Christian liberal arts education, our world language programs are an invaluable part of that.

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