Given the increasingly international nature of the business world, the need for college students to learn a foreign language is greater than ever.
"Fluency in a foreign language involves a skill set that is now very important to many employers, especially those who require their employees to travel overseas," says Kathy Mahnke, director of the Center for World Languages and Cultures at the University of Denver. "Being able to communicate in a colleague's native tongue helps business negotiations, (and) social interactions with that colleague go much more smoothly than does working through a translator. There are just some cultural aspects of communication that do not translate well."
Use these tips to choose a language that could prove beneficial to your career:
Choose an in-demand language: When conflict arises elsewhere in the world and an American presence is required, demand for foreign language speakers rises.
The conflict in the Middle East has spurred enormous demand for Arabic speakers to work in government or contracting roles. Schools are taking note; enrollment in Arabic courses has more than quadrupled at Tufts University in the past decade, for example.
Conflict isn't the only driver; China, India and Brazil are burgeoning business markets. An ability to converse freely with professionals will set you apart.
Go beyond college requirements: While many students are happy to dodge a potentially GPA-sapping foreign language class, it may not be in their best interests. "It is imperative that colleges and universities set the foreign language requirement at a level that would help students gain ability to communicate ably," says Mary Lynn Redmond, professor of education at Wake Forest University.
Immerse yourself: Students who want to learn a new language should take advantage of study-abroad programs. "True language proficiency requires years of study beyond the minimum requirement and, ideally, time spent in the target language country," says Jennifer Redmann, associate professor of German at Franklin & Marshall College in Pennsylvania.
Take classes, not shortcuts: Widely publicized teaching tools like Rosetta Stone can supplement your foreign language education, professors say, but shouldn't be a student's sole means of absorbing a language. Interactive tools are useful for memorizing vocabulary words, but they're not as effective as learning the nuances of conversation as live, face-to-face instruction, says Redmond of Wake Forest.