Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Why You're Wasting Your Time in Language Classes

Schools and universities love forcing their students to take foreign language classes.

It's for diversity!
It's for a well-rounded education!

No, actually, it's to employ the idiots who 10 years before you majored in a worthless subject.

Oh, huff and puff all you want, the truth is in and it turns out it only pays to major in a foreign language if you're a non-native English speaker living in an English-speaking land.

Now naturally the foreign languages departments, teachers, and professors across the land will get their panties in a bundle, predictably claiming it isn't all about the money, and they wonderful experiences they had in foreign lands, and if they were to blah blah blah.

And for once, I 100% agree with them.

There is a non-financial aspect and benefit to learning a foreign language that should not be measured in increased profits, ROI, or economics.

Good thing Rosetta Stone can replace the billions we waste of foreign language professors and teachers every year for a mere fraction of the cost.  And we all know how much those teachers and professors PRIMARILY care about educating the children and not money.




Anonymous said...

You are dead wrong about this. Languages are extremely important for global companies. If you can speak a language your chances of having a prime relocation to another country - which will turbocharge your career - rise. Multinational companies specifically seek languages for some roles. If you want to work for a multinational based in another country (a Swiss pharmaceutical company, or l'Oreal from France), you will be stuck at a low level if you can't speak at least one other European language.

Right now, having Chinese is a huge asset.

Having Pashtun, Persian, Arabic or Russian will take you to the top of the shortlist for governmental foreign affairs work.

Just some guy said...

He isn't wrong. Unless you are one in ten thousand you will never be fluent enough in a foreign language that speakers of that language will prefer you speaking their language to them speaking English unless you start learning at a young age. To have proper pronunciation in a truly foreign language, say Japanese or Korean, 8 years old is too late for most people. Now if you were living in a country where people speak a different language and you wanted your young children to learn that language that is something completely different. Put your kids in a Russian or Chinese kindergarten and then in a school that teaches in those languages and they will be perfectly fluent in those languages to the point that native speakers of that language will be able to make a good guess where they learned it. That however is completely different than the mandatory foreign language credit. Picking up a credit or half credit in university or high school is a complete waste of time and serves to subsidize a department that wouldn't exist without a supply of financial victims.

sth_txs said...

I do wish I had paid attention in high school Spanish class a couple decades ago. I passed it, but I realized later I should have learned something so I had the potential to go work south of the border or in South America as an engineer.

I'm sure a technical degree with foreign language background can also take you places as well.

Anonymous said...

Anon. Please read carefully. He didn't say speaking a foreign language was not useful. He said getting a degree in it was not useful. See the difference? Degree != actual learning.

For what it's worth, West Point originally had required classes in French because the textbooks they were using for engineering were written in French. The students needed it directly for other coursework. But that was a long time ago.

Heroditus Huxley said...

I certainly agree that majoring in the language is worthless--it quickly moves away from being about the language, and toward being about how the foreign culture is better than ours--but actually learning other languages isn't such a bad thing. It makes you appreciate English as a language (and understand the way it works) far more than if you hadn't taken the time to study another language.

Then again, I'm somewhat of a languages nerd that loves learning the mechanics of the languages but doesn't give two shits about learning the cultures.

Bike Bubba said...

Anonymous is correct that languages can be very helpful to an ex-pat, if that's what you want to do. I can further affirm that I've known a few ex-pats whose promotions clearly were more linked to the # of visa stamps on their passport than anything to do with their job skills.

With regards to advancement in society, it's worth noting that the President, despite having lived in Indonesia for years, knows no foreign languages. What I've found--and granted it's hard to quantify in terms of money--is that knowing a foreign language is an advantage to learning any language of commerce, from c++ to financials.

Joe said...

Actually, what you might consider learning is anything robots aren't good at.

Borepatch said...

Anon, if you read the story you will find that second language for native English speakers in North America results in a 1% - 2% increase in salary. Certainly there are opportunities to optimize that (avoid Spanish, per the article), but on average the ROI is rounding error.

Note that there are significant returns for non native English speakers learning the language in Europe: 10% - 20% increase in salary.

All this ignores the personal enrichment benefits that the Captain pointed out, but arguments that Americans need to learn a foreign language are not justified (at least in aggregate) financially.

Anonymous said...

I always thought that a person would be much better off learning how to play a musical instrument rather than learning another language.

Peregrine John said...

He's not denigrating the learning of languages, he's saying the usual way is a lousy investment. There's an endless parade of American students who took two years of French only to discover, on arriving in Paris, that they don't speak 2nd year French there.

Classes have their place. If it's your only option, do it. Here's my personal preference of what to get to be conversational (relatively) quickly with little $ outlay:
- Pimsleur, preferably a Complete course
- basic grammar book
- magazine or newspaper
Those will get you the sound, essential comprehension, most important vocabulary, and able to easily and correctly form sentences. Find TV or radio in your target language to seriously amp up your hearing ability and understanding of slang.

The only part missing from that is actual use with other humans, which is probably the most important part. For that you'll ideally find someone who speaks it natively to practice with. Failing that, you'll need a language club or, yes, a class.

Southern Man said...

I'm crash-coursing in Spanish because I'm going to Spain later this spring and to Mexico this fall. Conversational CDs in the car, mostly.

While in physics grad school I was touring a physics library at a major installation. The guide, a young man from Germany, made some fairly cutting comments about him learning English, but us dumb Americans not learning German. I pointed out that of the top one hundred physics journals, 98 are in English (with one in German, one in Japanese). He was not amused.

Nate w said...

I speak Portuguese fluently, but never took a class in it. To be honest it hasn't boosted my career any. The only benefit is that it's close enough to Spanish I can spy on people.

Anonymous said...

I agree 100%. The fact is that language classes are the single worst way to go about learning a language. It's all about exposure, and it doesn't matter if it occurs in the target country or in your home country (radio, cartoons, music, movies, etc.). If you want real language success stories, check out All Japanese All The Time. This guy learned Japanese in 18 months to a very high level (job interview in Japanese with a major corporation). Not trying to sell his product, his articles are free anyway. The difference is that he exposed himself to Japanese constantly, like 18 hours a day (again, fun stuff like cartoons and music, no grammar books), as opposed to the average language major who goes to class for four hours a week and then tells everyone it takes four years to become fluent, and complains about how hard the language is. Please.
Notice how when you say that language classes are a waste of time, people tell you how valuable learning a language is. No disagreement there, it's just that grammar exercises are more like doing algebra exercises than actually learning a language.

PS. Rosetta Stone is a waste of money too. Again, cartoons, music, movies. Fun stuff. All free.

Kristophr said...

If you want to learn, say Spanish ... do not drop hundreds of dollars on a complete rossetta stone or pimsleur course.

There are nearly free alternatives on the internet.

This one is completely free for basic starter Spanish:

Once you have the basics down, this guy's book will guide you through using free telenovela movies online, and free apps to get to an intermediate stage:

If you look, you can find free ( or nearly free ) web tools for learning any language these days.

Anonymous said...

I've been planning on Berlitz or Inlingua classes. Only real language classes out there (i.e. no chalkboard, not taught like math)

Anonymous said...

I realize the plural of anecdote is not data. But, I know a barber in the McAllen area. When he was 12, he shined shoes across the border in Reynosa, and didn't even own a pair himself.

As an adult, he got a job working the crops in the US. He decided he wanted better so he saved up and went to barber school.

He bought a house, and put his son and daughter through university. The son got a law degree. The only job he could find was as a parole supervisor. Lousy pay; lousy job.

He also concluded he had to do better. So, he went to Mexico City and studied Spanish at UNAM for 18 months.

He then got a job at a large law firm in Dallas and in a short time became a partner. He is able to work with the Spanish speaking clients and makes beau coup bucks every year.

As Cap says, try to find your own niche, rather than trying to follow the herd.

Anonymous age 71

Anonymous said...

I personally enjoy studying Asian languages. They have really neat cultures and histories. Different from European languages (which I can't stand), but cool. I write Chinese characters better than I write English letters!