Languages, Literatures and Cultures
Why Learn a Language?
Where would we be without language? It is after all our means of communication, our means of understanding ourselves and our fellow human beings. Paradoxical as it may seem, language can also be a barrier to those ends if we do not study our own and that of our neighbors around the world. While one may still argue about the validity of linguistic determinism, i.e. the extent to which language determines the way we think, it is fairly obvious that language affects our thinking and influences the way we perceive and remember. Moreover, our use of language conveys personal identity by revealing a great deal about ourselves, thus assuming a central integrating role across all spheres of our life.
In the beginning of the 21st Century, Chinese heads the list of estimated numbers of speakers (1.123 billion) of a language around the world; English follows with 480 million; Spanish, with 375 million, is in fourth place; Russian is next with 290 million. Arabic is spoken by 220 million people, Japanese and French by 120 million each. German comes in with 110 million, Italian with 60 million speakers. Hebrew is spoken by an estimated three to four million people. Fortunately, language study has been a traditional part of Muhlenberg's curriculum since the College's founding in 1848. Today, students at Muhlenberg have the opportunity to study all of the languages mentioned above.Japanese is available through arrangements with neighboring LVAIC institutions.
To be sure, the road to linguistic fluency in a language other than one's own requires dedication and perseverance over significant periods of time. But for those who take language study seriously, the rewards can be significant. That is why Muhlenberg College is among the 67.5% of 1607 four-year colleges in the United States who require the study of a second language for graduation. Another 17% of the four-year colleges include the study of a language among their distribution requirements. From this perspective, as well as from a purely intellectual one, the study of a second language offers some real and distinct advantages. That is why traditionally it has been an integral part of a liberal arts education. Students should take full advantage of the opportunities offered them through the study of foreign languages, literatures and cultures. It is an investment well worth making. The dividends will be incalculable.
Albert Kipa, Ph.D.
Saeger Professor of Comparative Literature,
Department of Languages,
Literatures and Cultures