Español. Français. Deutsch.
There are more than 6,000 languages in the world, and while many of these are not commonly taught and aren't spoken in most countries, students can reap a variety of benefits, both academic and personal, from studying any foreign language.
High school can be one of the very best times to learn a language. There are few other periods in life when you'll have as many opportunities to freely attend a class under the instruction of an experienced teacher.
Alyssa Gilbert, a sophomore at Bonneville High, hits on the most basic reason that studying a foreign language in high school is beneficial. She's taking Spanish "to get into college and (because) it helps to get a job."
Most colleges now require that students have taken at least two years of the same foreign language in order to be admitted. Prestigious schools often have more stringent requirements. Stanford, for example, requires three or more years of a foreign language. Princeton expects four, while only requiring two years of both history and science. To many colleges, knowledge of a foreign language is at the very least attractive, and at the very most essential.
Many employers have a similar outlook. The ability to speak a foreign language can be very helpful in any job that deals with people, particularly in careers that have an international focus.
According to the CIA World Factbook, only 5.6 percent of the world's population speaks English as a primary language. There are hundreds of thousands of people who don't know English, making the ability to speak and write a different language a valuable commodity in many careers.
Alan Baggaley, a Spanish teacher at NUAMES, agrees.
"Learning Spanish, specifically, can open up many economic doors in our country such as in supervisory or managerial capacities and even international business," he says.
While Spanish is often useful with local and international jobs due to the large number of U.S. residents who speak it, there's a variety of careers that require other foreign languages as well. Even if the job you're interested in doesn't require bilingual employees, the ability to speak a second language can make you a more competitive candidate for any job.
The benefits of learning a foreign language can overflow into other academic areas as well. Studying a new language requires the development of a variety of skills that can be useful in and out of the classroom.
Bryan Andrews, a senior studying French at Northridge, says, "It's really hard because there are so many different verbs you have to learn. You have to have a lot of memorization skills and learn a lot of new concepts."
Foreign language classes foster abilities such as memorization and critical thinking that can improve academic performance in other subjects. Many studies suggest that students who learn a second language score significantly higher in areas such as math, reading comprehension and language mechanics.
For instance, an analysis of more than 17,000 test scores by researchers Olsen and Brown revealed that high school students who studied a foreign language scored consistently higher on the English and mathematics portions of the ACT. Other studies have suggested similar results on the SAT as well.
Apart from academic and employment benefits, taking a foreign language can open up a whole new array of opportunities in traveling. Language is an essential part of a country's culture, and you can experience another culture much better when you can converse with the people and understand where they come from.
"I like Mandarin Chinese because each word carries such a great amount of history behind it. They evolved and changed," says Christal Hazelton, a junior at Clearfield High.
A language often tells a lot about a country's culture and heritage, enabling a better understanding of the people who speak it. Aside from that, foreign language classes often teach more than just the language, touching on things such as geography, food and traditions.
Andrews says his favorite part of French class is the different cultures that he gets to experience, such as Mardi Gras.
Mikayla Coy, a sophomore at Bonneville agrees, saying that she loves that she gets to "learn about how other people live and speak."
'A new lens'
Bilingualism can also lead to better relationships with people from foreign countries.
"I want to be able to communicate with people who don't speak English," Coy, who's studying Spanish and American Sign Language, says.
Zach Griffin, a sophomore at Syracuse, says that this is his favorite part of studying Chinese -- being able to speak with people in the different language.
Language is the key component of communication; being unable to speak another's language can build barriers between relationships and prevent you from fully understanding someone's meaning. While translators can bridge the language barrier, being able to speak with someone personally is important for building a relationship.
All in all, learning a foreign language can be a great opportunity. Not only can it broaden your horizons and help you to look beyond the familiar, at the same time it can teach you to take a step back and examine your own culture and ways of communication.
"Learning another language enables students to see the world through a new lens," says Baggaley. "The human race no longer lives in secluded homogeneous groups, but as a world community. Developing skills in understanding, appreciating and even participating in some aspects of another culture is paramount to success in our day."
Foreign languages can open thousands of doors when it comes to college, careers and travel, and can lead to new friendships -- or, as they would say in Spanish class, ¬°nuevos amigos!
TX. correspondents Meghan Jones, Bonneville High, and Minna Wang, NUAMES, contributed to this story.
Kalli Damschen is a junior at Clearfield High School. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.