Lost in translation

As U.S. businesses continue to expand overseas, there is a growing need for bilingual jobs in the public and private sector.

Georgia State requires all College of Arts and Science majors to take some foreign language courses, but students may, or may not, take enough away from the class.

“If we are to be successful in such a competitive new global economy, we must have a population that is able to understand other languages and cultures,” said Fernando O. Reati, chair of the department of modern and classical languages at Georgia State.

Reati said the U.S. faces a past stigma of citizens not being versed in world cultures.

“While this may no longer be totally true, since we have made some progress, it is unfortunately a reflection of the fact, that until not long ago the U.S. was mostly insular with respect to the rest of the world and we expected everybody to speak English,” Reati said.

Aside from the stigma, knowing another language puts students in a better position to find a job.

“When it comes to career stuff, there’s no question that having a second language opens up potential opportunities,” said Dr. Kevin Gaw, director of the University Career Services.

A native of Indonesia, Gaw speaks Malay fluently, a skill that has opened many doors in his life.

“I was able to go to work in the university because of my language skills that were already in place,” Gaw said.

As the director of University Career Services, Gaw helps students find employment post-graduation.

“In the corporate world, having a second language is valuable,” Gaw said.

A 2007 National Education Association study on the benefits of second language found there was more to knowing a foreign language than landing a job.

“A pervasive lack of knowledge about foreign cultures and foreign languages threatens the security of the United States as well as its ability to compete in the global marketplace and produce an informed citizenry. The U.S. education system has, in recent years, placed little value on speaking languages other than English or on understanding cultures other than one’s own,” the study stated.

Most students, despite the advantage a second language would give them, just take foreign language classes to fill the class requirement.

Student Gavin Lovett said he thinks students won’t continue taking foreign language classes past the requirement “unless they are going into a career that utilizes languages.”

“Otherwise, they just take them because they have to,” Lovett said.

Although students don’t voluntarily continue in a foreign language program, Lovett said he believes the required courses do make an impact.

“While they are in class I feel like students care about the language and culture they are studying,” Lovett said. “However, it’s an interest that only lasts for the duration of the time they are in class.”

Some students may not even retain the information after the course is through.

“In my classes people enjoy the lessons but they don’t really learn more than what is asked of them,” student Ryan Sanders said. “Years afterward they might remember a word or two, but very few ever master or control the language.”

Reati said he believes Georgia State’s Strategic Plan’s goal of “globalizing the university” is the first step to take to make students well-rounded world citizens.

“Learning foreign languages and cultures is one of the most obvious paths to achieving those goals,” Reati said. “With increased global competitiveness, enhanced cognitive skills, more educated and employable individuals, and even the possibility of beating back those “senior moments” of old age as a result of learning foreign languages, what is there to lose?”

Benefits of a second language

•    You get better grades
•    Narrows achievement gap
•    Better basic skills
•    Makes you an abstract thinker
•    Enhances cognitive development
•    Enhances achievement
•    You do better on standardized tests
•    Become more culturally aware
•    Better chance of getting into college
•    Higher chance of getting a job
•    More security awareness

-NEA Research Dec. 2007


By Terah Boyd | News Editor
& Andres Cruz-Wellmann | Associate News Editor

— Laura Haas contributed to this report.