Why you should learn a foreign language?
Do you dream of learning a language abroad? Well, guess what— Uncle Sam wants YOU to learn critical foreign languages! What do we mean by “critical” foreign languages? It’s not a language that harshly criticizes your life choices, fortunately. Besides, you’ve got Grandma for that. Instead, it’s a distinction used mostly by the U.S. Department of State and Department of Defense to define languages critical to national security. These languages will also be helpful to anyone looking to work in diplomacy, security, or international development in the future, so it’s not just for the future James Bonds of the world.
Budget-conscious language learner, will be happy to hear there are even scholarship programs for learning critical foreign languages abroad (we told you the national really values these skills!). This means, basically, that you have no excuse not to pick up a couple translation dictionaries and get cracking on learning one of the following critical foreign languages abroad.
1. Consider Learning Arabic Abroad
Arabic has a rich history with multiple dialects in multiple countries. You can learn Arabic abroad in Morocco, in the UNESCO World Heritage city of Meknès, and soak up the mix of cultures with a friendly support staff. Of you could study Arabic in Dubai or Abu Dhabi by living with an Arabic tutor for one-on-one lessons! Arabic is a vitally important language in today’s current political state, especially as Arabic speaking refugees seek new homes outside of Syria. If issues surrounding the Middle East interest you, then you can’t go wrong picking up some solid Arabic skills.
2. Check Out Russian Language Immersion Programs
Who doesn’t dream of a snowy St. Petersburg— anyone? No? Just me and all my novels about Russian history, then. Russia is a major player on the world stage, and you can dive into your love of Russian history or interest in current politics by studying Russian in Moscow or St. Petersburg by living with a local family as part of Russian language immersion programs. Since the Russian language also swept across many of the surrounding nations during the days of the Soviet Union, you can also study Russian in Kiev, Ukraine or in the beautiful city of Batumi, Georgia on the coast of the Black Sea. Remember, of course, that Russia and the Russian language have all sorts of connotations in these former Soviet cities; your Russian courses could become a very intense lesson on Eastern European politics!
3. Explore Turkish Language Study Abroad
Turkey is an important U.S. ally, even though the relationship is often strained. Turkish language study is more important than ever as the U.S. wishes to work with Turkey on issues like the civil war in Syria and counterrorism. You could study Turkish in Antalya, a beautiful resort city in Turkey with Roman heritage that draws tons of tourists every year. Learning a new language and discussing heavy international issues while lounging on the beach might seem a bit incongruous, but perhaps it’s the exact study environment you need!
4. Study Hebrew in Israel
Hebrew has a fascinating history as a language, at once ancient and modern, while also sacred and every day. Study Hebrew in Israel in the city of Haifa, a city with it’s own three thousand year history of various rulers and cultures. Or, take immersive Hebrew courses in Jerusalem, the city of holy significance to Christians, Jews, and Muslims all over the world. What better city to learn about how history influences current international dilemmas? Soak in the ancient past and learn about the issues of the present as you immerse yourself in the Hebrew language.
5. Learn Chinese Abroad
Both Mandarin and Cantonese are considered critical foreign languages. Study Chinese in Shanghai or Beijing, at universities or with small groups; there are even programs for high school students! China has a growing global influence, and is a major trade partner and development investor in multiple nations, from Peru all the way to Nigeria. Studying Chinese could prepare you for a career in international business or trade policy. Maybe you’ll sit in on high level diplomatic talks. Or, maybe you’ll just become really, really good at brewing tea and singing karaoke!
6. Brush Up on Your Georgian
Georgian is an amazing language – while the little country of Georgia has been invaded by so many foreign powers, they have always retained their own language and even their own alphabet! (A fact they are very proud of, and have displayed on an alphabet tower in Batumi). Considered a critical language, you can study Georgian in Tbilisi, the gorgeous, ancient capital of Georgia. Studying Georgian will also likely mean joining a supra, a combined party and drinking ceremony that Georgians use to celebrate any and all occasions! Learn a toast first thing, and dance steps next, to get ready to immerse yourself in Georgian culture.
7. Learn How to Speak Wolof
Wolof is predominantly spoken in Senegal, but can also be found in the Gambia and Mauritania. African languages are in high demand and most definitely categorized as critical foreign languages. You can learn Wolof in the Senegalese city of Saint-Louis (or Ndar as it is locally known) by taking intensive classes and living with a host family. Saint-Louis is a beautiful city that attracts many tourists, and studying Wolof can help put you on the right track toward a career in Senegal, or be a first step to working throughout the African continent in any field.
8. Practice Portuguese
Portuguese is another of the critical foreign languages found in a couple different countries. Study Portuguese in Lisbon, Portugal, one of the oldest capital cities in Western Europe, with a dizzying array of old and new, quiet corners and bustling centers. You could also study Portuguese in Brazil and explore what the old language feels like in the new world! Studying Portuguese in either country can launch you into exploring the rest of the continent – Europe or South America – and Portuguese skills could help with your career in either place.
Fun fact: the new Secretary-General for the United Nations is from Portugal!
How to Begin Learning a Critical Foreign Language Abroad
Before making your choice of program or language (if you haven’t already started practicing), be sure to read reviews and reach out to program alumni to hear about their experience. You can also compare and save critical foreign language programs side-by-side with MyGoAbroad.
Learning a new language, whether it’s in language immersion programs abroad or in a classroom at home, is difficult and challenges not only your intellect, but your confidence and maybe even your cultural identity. The language we speak is an important part of us, and learning a new one/returning to speaking like a five year old, is a humbling experience. Find a language program that works with your learning style, and don’t be afraid to challenge yourself.
With the demand for these State Department critical foreign languages, there’s really no reason not to jump right into it and start practicing those conjugations!