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Is it worth it to major in a language?

ThePrincessBrideThePrincessBride Posts: 507Registered User Member
edited January 2010 in College Life
Hey everyone,

So, I'm a first year and an undeclared double major (Journalism/Chinese) w/a minor in Spanish. I've been looking through all my major requirements for Chinese and it seems to not be worth getting a major in (though it would look very impressive to employers). Instead of majoring in Chinese, should I just take the language and minor courses and just major in Journalism with a double minor in Chinese and Spanish?

In order to be able to graduate in four years with a double major and a minor, I would have to do at least one/two summers of classes and consistently take a good 17 or more credit hours. I plan to study abroad (in China and Spain), and I have heard that majoring in a foreign language is useless, but can be very helpful as a [less time consuming] minor.

So would it be a smart move just to take language/minor courses in Chinese and study abroad for three or so months? Also, how long should one stay in a country in order to become fluent? I'm thinking three months in Spain (or South America) and six months in China. Would that be enough?
Post edited by ThePrincessBride on
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Replies to: Is it worth it to major in a language?

  • TwistedxKissTwistedxKiss Posts: 2,535Registered User Senior Member
    These are really good things to ask advising at your school. I wouldn't make such an important decision based on what you read on a message board.
  • TomServoTomServo Posts: 2,047Registered User Senior Member
    Good gravy, the advising people aren't going to say "no, that major is a waste of time and money," even if the major is leisure studies. You need to do some research on your own, from objective sources. I'll save you some trouble and point out that it depends on the language, largely. Businesses need people who speak Chinese, but French, less so. There are sources on the web for this information. But I'd drop the journalism and switch to accounting or something. You'll find it's not a very high-paying degree, and subtracting the cost of getting a degree in journalism and the lost wages that you otherwise would have been earning at a full-time job you may find it's a wash.
  • legendofmaxlegendofmax Posts: 4,732Registered User Senior Member
    If you enjoy it, go for it. Chinese is a lot of fun, and is very useful, to boot.
  • b@r!umb@r!um Posts: 9,287Registered User Senior Member
    I think fluency (or near fluency) is a lot more useful than a foreign language major per se. I would not go out of my way to get a double-major if it meant an extra burden.
  • DCHurricaneDCHurricane Posts: 2,976- Senior Member
    Yes. Although like barium said, the chief thing is fluency. Taking a major in a language will certainly teach you all the intricacies of the language. But you have to retain them.

    Chinese and Arabic are both incredibly useful to be fluent in. There are government jobs that basically just require that you be fluent in a 'necessary language.' They pay pretty decently, because there aren't tons of people fluent in Arabic who are US citizens (a lot of these jobs have to do with interpreting or analysis, so they tend to require a security clearance).
  • navyarfnavyarf Posts: 366- Member
    Spanish is much, much, easier to learn than Chinese. Three months in Spain or South America would do you just fine providing you have a decent Spanish background from high school/college classes. Even if you don't, it is not that hard to learn and become fluent in. One of my roommates in South America went there not knowing a lick of Spanish, after four months he was fluent.

    Chinese, will usually take at least a YEAR abroad if not more to become moderately fluent. My mother teaches Chinese to foreigners and for the majority of her students, it takes at least TWO years abroad combined with extensive training to become completely fluent.

    The tones of Chinese and the character system tend to be excruciatingly difficult concepts for foreign learners to grasp. While you can presumably read any Spanish text by sounding out the words, making inferences, etc after a year or two of Spanish, it is much harder to do in Chinese, because if you don't recognize the characters, you can't read it. Plain and simple. The learning of characters is a time consuming process.

    Spanish grammar is much harder than Chinese grammar (which is very simple).

    It is not necessary to major in Spanish to become fluent. You can minor in it, study abroad for a while, and become fluent. You will not be able to do the same for Chinese.
  • TwistedxKissTwistedxKiss Posts: 2,535Registered User Senior Member
    "Good gravy, the advising people aren't going to say "no, that major is a waste of time and money," even if the major is leisure studies."

    No, but they can give you a realistic idea of what graduates in that major tend to end up doing or what skills they will obtain that are career relevant and the student can decide for themselves if that sounds like what they had in mind. One of the biggest issues with major selection is when someone thinks a certain major will do a certain thing for them, only to find out it doesn't really. I think that's a lot more useful than asking a bunch of 18 year olds who have little to no career experience about what makes for a useful major.
  • JimgotkpJimgotkp Posts: 2,854Registered User Senior Member
    It's great if your looking at a government job, being in the business world, or any other industry that requires/or will require interaction with people of other ethnicity. If your in the business, hospitality, or engineering industry, I'd recommend learning Chinese.
  • BooleanBoolean Posts: 75Registered User Junior Member
    If you enjoy it then it's worth it to you. Personally I love learning new languages. I'm not a foreign language major, but I've taken Chinese, Japanese, and Korean just for fun. It's also not a useless major. Like others have mentioned there's a lot of demand for linguists in business and government. I know the NSA, FBI, and CIA are always looking for linguists. Or you could always go to law or medical school. I know someone that just got into the Univ of Illinois medical school and he was a Korean major.

    In any case, it's always good to talk to an adviser, or professors and students in the area you're thinking of going in to. That would probably give you more of an idea of what the major really entails and what you can do after graduation.
  • ThePrincessBrideThePrincessBride Posts: 507Registered User Member
    Good gravy, the advising people aren't going to say "no, that major is a waste of time and money," even if the major is leisure studies. You need to do some research on your own, from objective sources. I'll save you some trouble and point out that it depends on the language, largely. Businesses need people who speak Chinese, but French, less so. There are sources on the web for this information. But I'd drop the journalism and switch to accounting or something. You'll find it's not a very high-paying degree, and subtracting the cost of getting a degree in journalism and the lost wages that you otherwise would have been earning at a full-time job you may find it's a wash.

    I'm not interested in the stereotypical "useful" degrees (i.e. accounting/finance. I would blow my freaking brains out!). I'm not really into making a ton of money...happiness is a top priority (though money is a concern). Journalism, I think, would make me a lot happier than doing some boring, accounting job (my dad is an accountant, btw).

    I am also considering law school (divorce court and custodial battles), but after hearing all those hours and the cardiac arrest-like lifestyle that lawyers live, I am considering otherwise.
  • ThePrincessBrideThePrincessBride Posts: 507Registered User Member
    Spanish is much, much, easier to learn than Chinese. Three months in Spain or South America would do you just fine providing you have a decent Spanish background from high school/college classes. Even if you don't, it is not that hard to learn and become fluent in. One of my roommates in South America went there not knowing a lick of Spanish, after four months he was fluent.

    Chinese, will usually take at least a YEAR abroad if not more to become moderately fluent. My mother teaches Chinese to foreigners and for the majority of her students, it takes at least TWO years abroad combined with extensive training to become completely fluent.

    The tones of Chinese and the character system tend to be excruciatingly difficult concepts for foreign learners to grasp. While you can presumably read any Spanish text by sounding out the words, making inferences, etc after a year or two of Spanish, it is much harder to do in Chinese, because if you don't recognize the characters, you can't read it. Plain and simple. The learning of characters is a time consuming process.

    Spanish grammar is much harder than Chinese grammar (which is very simple).

    It is not necessary to major in Spanish to become fluent. You can minor in it, study abroad for a while, and become fluent. You will not be able to do the same for Chinese.

    Thank you so much! I find the traditional characters to be very hard...not so much with the simplified (it'll take a while to learn it). I was thinking about taking as many foreign language classes as possible and do about six-nine months abroad in China, with frequent visits for business and/or journalism report stories.

    However, I do find Chinese to be alot easier to grasp than Spanish (I know, I know, sounds strange). Grammar, for me, is extremely difficult, so I prefer the Mandarin grammar and word structure. Writing is intense but not unbearable. I think the speaking and listening are the two hardest components in a language.
  • Euler321Euler321 Posts: 597Registered User Member
    Boolean wrote:
    If you enjoy it then it's worth it to you. Personally I love learning new languages. I'm not a foreign language major, but I've taken Chinese, Japanese, and Korean just for fun. It's also not a useless major. Like others have mentioned there's a lot of demand for linguists in business and government. I know the NSA, FBI, and CIA are always looking for linguists. Or you could always go to law or medical school. I know someone that just got into the Univ of Illinois medical school and he was a Korean major.

    In any case, it's always good to talk to an adviser, or professors and students in the area you're thinking of going in to. That would probably give you more of an idea of what the major really entails and what you can do after graduation.

    People have been saying this about language majors for a while, and it is maybe 50% true. Yes, people who study these majors have ended up working for a government in these agencies, but this is a very small subset and you can't really count on getting employed by them because the vetting process is so significant. Fluency is also assumed.
    Thank you so much! I find the traditional characters to be very hard...not so much with the simplified (it'll take a while to learn it). I was thinking about taking as many foreign language classes as possible and do about six-nine months abroad in China, with frequent visits for business and/or journalism report stories.

    You may not be aware of this but newspapers are going out of business, and everything is going online. Journalism is in somewhat of a decline right now, so in order to actually become a journalist you are going to have to do tons of internships. If you're planning on going abroad, you should make sure you have an internship when you are there.
    I'm not interested in the stereotypical "useful" degrees (i.e. accounting/finance. I would blow my freaking brains out!). I'm not really into making a ton of money...happiness is a top priority (though money is a concern). Journalism, I think, would make me a lot happier than doing some boring, accounting job (my dad is an accountant, btw).

    If money is at all a concern you should think carefully before you decide on this career path unless you are willing to fully commit yourself. Although majors traditionally considered useful may not be as cool, or as interesting, just keep this in mind that they often do provide more job security. Our country will always need accountants. If you want to have a job where you travel the world writing articles, your grades and internships are going to be more important than whether or not you minored in Spanish.

    Your priorities should be:
    1. Stellar grades.
    2. Stellar internships & studying abroad.
    3. Stellar recommendations.
    4. Everything else.

    I'd keep journalism, but drop the other majors/minors (keep taking the classes though). If you happen to have enough classes in them by the time you approach graduation then fill out the paperwork. Hopefully if all goes well, you'll also be filling out an application to National Geographic.
  • navyarfnavyarf Posts: 366- Member
    If you can speak English, Mandarin, and Spanish, you will literally be able to communicate with a great majority of the people in this world. Those are the three most spoken languages. Business opportunities in South/Central America and China are booming at the moment, so if you can master those languages, you will be in a good position.

    I find traditional characters easier to learn, though that's probably because I grew up using them, and recently had to learn all the simplified conversions. I don't feel the original meanings of the characters are retained in the simplified characters, the beauty of the characters are absent.

    Fortunately, if you don't plan on working in Taiwan/Hong Kong, simplified characters are the way to go. You can thank Mao for that :). The only other thing you need traditional characters for is reading classical literature and calligraphy.

    If you find yourself time constrained, I wouldn't spend too much time trying to master BOTH languages, perhaps just focus on one. If you do have the time, go for it. Realistically, you are most likely not going to come out of 4 years of college being completely fluent in both, unless you are insanely gifted at language acquisition. It will take you probably additional time after graduation (perhaps you can stay in China after graduating to do some work) to acquire mastery.

    I wouldn't advise you to spend a lot of time taking Spanish courses. You will learn MUCH, MUCH, MUCH faster by living in a spanish-speaking country for 3-6 months. Seriously, I learned more in two weeks of living in South America than I did in two semesters of upper-division classes ><.
  • BooleanBoolean Posts: 75Registered User Junior Member
    Euler321 wrote:
    People have been saying this about language majors for a while, and it is maybe 50% true. Yes, people who study these majors have ended up working for a government in these agencies, but this is a very small subset and you can't really count on getting employed by them because the vetting process is so significant. Fluency is also assumed.
    It never seemed that hard to me to get a job with them. My experience on this mostly comes from my wife though. My wife was pretty much offered a job with one of the agencies before she even graduated. She is a native Korean speaker though.
    I also know they recruit heavily at my wife's school. Then again, her school's foreign language graduates are usually much better at the language than most other schools graduates.
  • ThePrincessBrideThePrincessBride Posts: 507Registered User Member
    You may not be aware of this but newspapers are going out of business, and everything is going online. Journalism is in somewhat of a decline right now, so in order to actually become a journalist you are going to have to do tons of internships. If you're planning on going abroad, you should make sure you have an internship when you are there.

    Oh yeah, I'm very aware of that, and I'm a little worried. That's why I'm focusing on a back-up plan (foreign languages, law school, nursing school). Journalism and writing are a passion of mine, and I'll take the risk at the under-grad level. Right now, I'm freelancing for my school's newspaper.

    And thanks for the advice. I was planning on taking a few classes over the summer, but I might as well just find an internship that I can get credit for and see if Journalism is really something I want to pursue.
    If money is at all a concern you should think carefully before you decide on this career path unless you are willing to fully commit yourself. Although majors traditionally considered useful may not be as cool, or as interesting, just keep this in mind that they often do provide more job security. Our country will always need accountants. If you want to have a job where you travel the world writing articles, your grades and internships are going to be more important than whether or not you minored in Spanish.

    And with that and a long conversation with my dad, I don't think I'm going to actively pursue a minor in Spanish. Just take some classes, study abroad, and focus on the speaking and listening aspects, less so on the culture.

    But yeah, I'll admit that money is an issue, but not in terms of student loans/financial aid. Undergrad is pretty much taken care of fortunately, but I'll definitely be looking into some more "useful" studies in grad school.
    Your priorities should be:
    1. Stellar grades.
    2. Stellar internships & studying abroad.
    3. Stellar recommendations.
    4. Everything else.

    I'd keep journalism, but drop the other majors/minors (keep taking the classes though). If you happen to have enough classes in them by the time you approach graduation then fill out the paperwork. Hopefully if all goes well, you'll also be filling out an application to National Geographic.

    Thanks! I really appreciate everyone's input. Double majoring and minoring is just...too much. But I'll continue on taking the classes whenever I can to improve my foreign languages.
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