Why Study a Foreign Language?

“One language sets you in a corridor for life. Two languages open every door along the way.” – Frank Smith, psycholinguist

While Harvard students must meet a foreign language requirement during their four years here, the qualifications and benefits garnered from language study go beyond passing a SAT II test in high school. Keen study of a non-native language in university is an indication of a student’s engagement with our global culture. In an increasingly interconnected world, knowledge of a foreign language can facilitate social and business transactions and provide knowledge crucial for success in a multicultural environment. While many students enter Harvard having already studied a foreign language, and some speak two, three, or more languages, continuing such study while at university has tremendous benefits.  Whether learning a new language for the first time, increasing your proficiency in a second language, or delving deeper into heritage language studies, taking a foreign language course at Harvard can expand your knowledge and appreciation of the world, endow you with critical skills necessary in a global environment, provide opportunities for international internships and study abroad, and even, according to a recent article in The New York Times, increase your cognitive abilities and help prevent dementia.

Professional schools (particularly law and medicine) look upon language acquisition as an indication of a student’s ability to think analytically and systematically to acquire a large body of information. Each year a number of students will graduate concentrating in a language and literature department, while having completed pre-med training. Increasingly, businesses competing in global markets are looking for savvy employees able to operate comfortably in multilingual markets. Several years of foreign language study act as incontrovertible evidence of a student’s capabilities.