5 reasons to take a language in college

Whether you are looking to enhance your career prospects, sharpen your cognitive skills, or gain exposure to new people and places, studying a foreign language has benefits that go far beyond just speaking a new language.

Two students on a lakeshore with the sun rising across the opposite shore

5 reasons to take a language in college

Whether you are looking to enhance your career prospects, sharpen your cognitive skills, or gain exposure to new people and places, studying a foreign language has benefits that go far beyond just speaking a new language.

Two students on a lakeshore with the sun rising across the opposite shore

What if I told you there was a series of classes you could take in college that would help you get better grades, improve your memory and multitasking skills, and prepare you for a wider array of career opportunities. Would you take it? Of course you would.

Well, you’re in luck. Studying a second (or third!) language in college can provide all of the above benefits, plus a few more. If you are debating whether to add a new language to your college schedule, consider these five reasons learning a new language can help you succeed in college.

#1. Some majors require it

The most obvious reason to study a new language? Your major requires it. Certain programs of study require two or more semesters of a language. If you are majoring in the humanities or social sciences, your program may consider language study an important element of learning more about humanity, diverse communities around the globe and international cultures. Other majors such as journalism, social work or education may consider bilingualism an important skill that will benefit you in your career.

If your major requires you to take a language, at most colleges you’ll find you have plenty of options. You may use this opportunity to continue studying a language you studied in high school, building proficiency to advanced levels, or you may take a brand new language to gain exposure to new linguistic constructions and ways of organizing the world.

#2. It can open up study abroad opportunities

While there are plenty of study abroad options for students that offer classes and programs in English, being able to take classes in a local language can give you many more options. International programs taught in the local language often attract students from around the globe, so you’ll be in classes with students from a wide range of other countries.

There’s also no substitute for immersion when it comes to truly mastering a new language. Many study abroad programs build language classes into their curricula, so you don’t have to be fluent before you leave. But after a semester abroad studying in a different language, you’ll return home with significantly improved language skills.

If you have advanced skills in a second language, you may find even more opportunities. Some programs allow you to enroll directly in a university in another country for a year, giving you wider range of courses you can take. Other programs may provide research or internship opportunities for students with appropriate language skills.

And if you are studying a language deemed critical by the U.S. Department of State, you may qualify for a scholarship to spend a summer overseas studying a new language, no previous experience required.

#3. Thinking about graduate school? Some graduate programs require proficiency.

If you are planning to go to graduate or professional school after college, you may be required to demonstrate proficiency in one or more languages other than English as part of your graduate program. If you plan to research or work in a non-English speaking country, you may need to learn a local language to finish your graduate thesis. Even if your program doesn’t require you to take a language, increasing rates of multilingualism in the U.S. mean very few professions won’t benefit from the ability to communicate with a wider range of clients, patients or colleagues.

#4. It’ll make you smarter (seriously!)

Research suggests that learning a new language has a host of academic and cognitive benefits for language learners that go beyond just acquiring new language skills.

Research supports that learning a language can aid memory and problem solving, can help combat age-related cognitive losses, can result in improved literacy and linguistic awareness overall, and is correlated with higher academic achievement and test scores.

Furthermore, it’s often through learning a new language that you gain a greater understanding of your native language. If direct objects and transitive verbs always struck you as abstract concepts in your English classes, you may find they become lifelines when you are learning to put together grammatical sentences in a new language.

#5. It’s more than just learning a language

Learning a new language is about more than acquiring a new academic skill or adding lines to your resume (although it can be both of those things!) Learning a new language can open up new ways of thinking about the world. You can experience new books, music and movies in their original language. You can travel off the beaten path or without a tour guide, with confidence that you can navigate a new city or country. You can meet new people, either overseas or right on your campus.

To learn more about learning a new language at the University of Nevada, Reno, visit the Department of World Languages and Literatures.


Kirstin SwagmanKirstin Swagman is a senior web strategist in the Office of Marketing & Communications at the University of Nevada, Reno. She has a bachelor's degree in journalism and an M.A. and Ph.D. in anthropology, with expertise in linguistic anthropology. Kirstin has more than a decade of experience working in higher education as a writer, digital strategist and instructor. 

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