Careers, Strategies, Colleges: The Ultimate Guide to Getting a Foreign Language Degree
One of the most exciting things you can do in college is learn a foreign language.
Aside from the tons of benefits to being bilingual, knowing a second language can actually help you land a job after you graduate.
And whether you’re attending one of the best American universities to learn a foreign language or learning online in your PJs, there are plenty of options out there to earn a foreign language degree.
So if you’re thinking of studying a foreign language in college, here’s what you need to know.
- What Can You Do with a Degree in a Foreign Language?
- Tips and Tricks to Get the Most Out of Your Foreign Language Degree Program
- 7 Great Universities for Language Learning
What Can You Do with a Degree in a Foreign Language?
There are plenty of great opportunities and jobs for language majors out there. However, here are a few fields where language skills and a foreign language degree are particularly useful:
With a global economy, a firm mastery of any language can be useful in the business world.
Given China’s size and spending power, learning Chinese is particularly helpful for international business. However, which language is most useful often varies by industry.
For instance, if you’re considering going into the automotive industry, Japanese and/or German are valuable. Want to work with major oil distributors? Arabic, Russian and Spanish will come in handy due to the locations of major oil fields.
International non-profits also employ people who have studied languages in college. After all, they need people who can speak the local language wherever they may work.
If you’re looking to work for an international non-profit, you can’t go wrong studying the official languages of the United Nations (Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Spanish and Russian) because they’re often used in international settings.
However, if you already know what sort of non-profit work you hope to do, you might consider customizing your language education to better meet your goals. For instance, if your career goal is to save the Amazon Rainforest, Portuguese will serve you well.
A foreign language degree can also open doors to a career in education. Whether you’re teaching your native tongue to eager students or helping students learn your target language, having studied a foreign language will come in handy in the education field.
Everyone needs healthcare, but sadly, some people feel limited when receiving healthcare due to the language barrier. Learning virtually any language could pay off in the medical field, especially if you live in a diverse community. However, in the United States, Spanish is exceptionally useful.
A language degree can be a great jumping off point for your law career. Within the legal field, there are plenty of instances when foreign language skills would come in handy.
For instance, anyone studying business law or international law may need language skills for negotiating mergers or deals. Similarly, immigration lawyers can connect much better with their clients if they speak the same language.
Graduates with language degrees might consider pursuing work in translation and/or interpretation. Translation is converting written text from one language to another, while interpretation focuses on spoken words.
Translation/interpretation positions can be found across industries, including medicine, government, education and more.
A foreign language degree can benefit you in pretty much any field you could possibly imagine. Foreign language degrees combine well with any other skills/majors you may pair them with.
One good way to pick the right pairing is to pick a field, then logically consider what language could benefit you in that field.
For instance, if you’re looking to go into journalism, you might consider also majoring in a language common in the region you hope to cover, such as Arabic.
Tips and Tricks to Get the Most Out of Your Foreign Language Degree Program
Look into test-out options for lower-level courses.
Did you study a language in high school? Did you learn a language independently over the summer? Perhaps you even grew up speaking a little of your target language with your favorite aunt. Regardless of how you came to acquire your language skills, be sure to look into whether your university has a test-out option.
Test-out options can save you valuable time and money by allowing you to skip over beginning-level courses. You may even earn credits for the courses you skip, and at some schools, having more credits means you get to register for classes earlier.
Plus, if you’re looking to get a language degree, there’s nothing more frustrating than having to sit through hours of material you already know well.
Put in extra effort outside of class.
A foreign language program can certainly improve your language skills, but to reach full fluency, you may need to put in a little more time and effort. Putting in extra effort outside of class can build on what you’ve already learned and ensure you’re on top of your language game.
There are plenty of languages apps you can download to work on your language skills outside of class. You could even take part in an online language exchange to practice the language you are learning with native speakers.
Learning with FluentU is a great way to work on your language skills in your free time, while also being exposed to culture and news in your target language.
FluentU transforms an array of authentic videos in your target language into lessons that demonstrate the language in a natural context. Each video features interactive subtitles, a quiz and even a transcript that allow you to practice the vocabulary used in the video. Another useful feature is the contextual video dictionary which allows you to search for specific terms to find videos where they are used. This is particularly useful if you’re studying new vocabulary and want to see it used in context by native speakers.
Study abroad… maybe repeatedly.
Not only is studying abroad a fun experience, but if you’re earning a foreign language degree, it can massively increase your skills. When you study abroad, the language experience can be much more immersive than sitting in a classroom back home. You go to class in your target language. You interact with locals in your target language. In short, your target language becomes a part of your daily life.
Studying abroad also gives you a great cultural experience that can round out your overall language education.
And if you can study abroad more than once, you may want to do so. For instance, if you’re studying Spanish, you might consider studying in Spain, Mexico and/or Latin America to round out your skill set by learning regional variations.
Pair your language major with an additional major for greater specialization.
A language major alone is nice. A language major combined with another great major? That’s hard to beat.
If you’re planning on getting a language degree, you may want to consider a double major. Your second major can provide greater specialization than your language degree alone. For instance, if you’re interested in international business, a double major in business and your target language is a perfect pairing.
Look into immersion options.
While studying abroad is a terrific immersion option, language students may also want to pursue other immersion options… especially if you don’t have the time and/or money to dedicate to a semester overseas.
Some universities, particularly larger schools with robust language programs, offer special housing for language students. You could find yourself sharing a room, floor or even building with other students studying your target language, giving you the perfect opportunity for extra conversation practice.
If you want to work on your target language or perhaps an additional language, many big universities offer summer immersion programs. If your school doesn’t offer a language that you want to learn, you may even be able to complete an immersion program at another university and transfer your credits in. To find out whether this would work at your school, you can meet with a transfer adviser.
7 Great Universities for Language Learning
Obviously, this list is not comprehensive. Countless universities around the world offer excellent language programs, so you may even be able to earn the language degree you want from the comfort of your home town. However, these seven schools have some particularly unique offerings that may appeal to language students.
Oregon State University
If you want to earn a foreign language degree online, there are few schools quite like Oregon State University.
That’s because Oregon State University offers more options than the vast majority of other schools. You can major or minor in French, German or Spanish and complete your degree online.
Not only that, Oregon State University offers plenty of other languages you can study online without degree options. You could also study American Sign Language, Chinese, Italian, Japanese and/or Korean through Oregon State University online.
Would you rather get your language degree in person? Oregon State University also offers in-person language degree options in French, German and Spanish.
The University of New Orleans
The University of New Orleans offers in-person bachelor’s degree majors, minors and concentrations in both French and Spanish. However, what really sets the University of New Orleans apart is that it offers a master’s degree in Romance languages that you can complete entirely online!
Once you’ve completed your undergraduate degree, this master’s program allows you to study Romance languages (with a concentration in either French or Spanish) in more depth. Plus, if you prefer, you can also mix in some in-person courses.
Pennsylvania Western University (PennWest California)
PennWest California doesn’t offer a huge array of learning options, but what it does offer is pretty unique. Through PennWest California, you can earn a degree in Arabic entirely online!
If you’re interested in learning Arabic but can’t find it at a local school or prefer online education, PennWest California is a terrific option. You’re unlikely to find other schools that offer degrees in Arabic online.
Not only that, courses are taught by native speakers. The main focus is Modern Standard Arabic, but you can also take courses to learn Egyptian and Levantine dialects to make yourself more versatile.
If you prefer, you can also earn a certificate in Arabic or continue on to earn your M.A. in Arabic.
While you can’t major in these languages, you can minor in French or Spanish. Alternatively, you can earn a certificate in Spanish for Business or Spanish for Law Enforcement entirely online.
If you’re looking to earn your degree online through just one school, Georgia Tech isn’t the best option on this list. However, if you want to take language courses online and potentially transfer the credits to earn your degree, Georgia Tech is a good choice.
While Georgia Tech doesn’t offer online degrees for foreign languages, it offers online courses in Chinese, French, German, Japanese, Korean and Russian. There’s also a Spanish course but this course is often just available to students currently at this university.
If you prefer an in-person option, Georgia Tech offers degrees in Chinese, French, German, Japanese, Korean, Russian and Spanish. A master’s degree is also available in French, German and Spanish.
Fort Hays State University
Whether you want to study online or in-person, you can earn an undergraduate degree, minor or certificate in Spanish through Fort Hays State University.
Fort Hays State University also offers some beginners Chinese, French and German courses. The Chinese course is only taught online, while the French and German courses are offered online and on campus.
Whether you want to study at Middlebury College full time or only in summer, it offers some terrific programs for language learners.
If you enroll in Middlebury College as your main university, you can choose between plenty of language degree options, including Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Hebrew, Italian, Japanese, Russian and Spanish & Portuguese. As an added bonus of going to Middlebury College, there are many language-specific houses, giving you the opportunity to live with other students studying your target language for a more complete immersion experience.
Even if you’re going to another school, though, you can still enjoy some of the language-learning options Middlebury College has to offer. The school offers a summer immersion program that aims to help students make massive strides in a short period of time. Regardless of what school you’re attending, you may consider attending this program to help meet your language degree goals. After all, you might be able to leverage your summer immersion to earn credits at your home school or test out some courses. Summer immersion programs are available for Abenaki, Arabic, Chinese, English, French, German, Hebrew, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish.
University of Wisconsin – Madison
Like Middlebury College, University of Wisconsin – Madison offers both year-round education and terrific summer programs.
And if you’re wanting to learn a less common language, the University of Wisconsin – Madison might be just the school you’re looking for.
During the regular term, the University of Wisconsin – Madison offers majors in Asian Languages and Cultures, Chinese, Classics, Classical Humanities, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Latin, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Scandinavian Studies and Spanish. In addition, though, the University of Wisconsin – Madison offers tons of other language classes, including less commonly taught options, like Hmong, Indonesian, Yucatec Maya, Quechua and more.
Plus, the University of Wisconsin – Madison offers residential opportunities to live with other language learners and immerse yourself in your target language. If you’re not ready for full immersion, though, the school also offers language conversation tables to help you get a little extra practice.
The University of Wisconsin – Madison also offers summer language courses and institutes, which you may be able to take as a “special student” who isn’t seeking a degree through the university.
The summer language institutes cover languages such as Arabic, Bangla, Brazilian Portuguese, Burmese, Filipino, Hebrew, Hindi, Hmong, Indonesian, Javanese, Kazakh, Khmer, Lao, Persian, Sanskrit, Tajik, Tamil, Thai, Tibetan, Turkish, Urdu, Uyghur, Uzbek and Vietnamese.
Go ahead and earn the foreign language degree of your dreams! With these tips, tricks and resources, you can navigate your way through a college foreign language degree program with ease.