LinguisticsWestern Arts and Humanities

Why Study Languages?

Today, university students are surrounded by changes that impose choices–fundamentally important choices. In part, this situation is a product of shifts within university programs that now oblige students to select a substantial part of their own course of studies, but outside the university, the working world has also changed. It has grown more volatile and, for those who aspire to satisfying careers, there is a growing demand not only for skills in a speaker's native tongue but for an education in other languages as well.

Knowledge of other languages is promised by the very best institutions of higher learning, and students should expect no less when they come to Western. Such knowledge permits contact with other cultures and other peoples–contact through which whole new perspectives can be acquired. Students, mistrusting themselves, may find that idea too grand or too remote from their experience. What they remember is the problems of a high school language course–problems of memorizing vocabulary, or conjugating verbs. Let's begin, then, at the difficult point of those remembered tasks, and consider the value of language study in introductory or intermediate courses and programs.

Introductory or Intermediate Study?

The introductory study of a language sketches its principal grammatical features and teaches students some of its basic qualities–its sound and music, for instance, and its idiomatic characteristics. Intermediate courses extend this knowledge, teaching students to read effectively with the assistance of a dictionary, and enabling them to communicate in many or even most ordinary language situations.

The important thing about study at these levels is that it provides a key to further learning, and that key is essential for two reasons. The first is that many students will never return to formal studies after they graduate. The second is that it is very difficult to acquire a second language without some experience of formal study.

That experience of formal study is what introductory and intermediate language courses offer. They provide the equivalent of a language map on which students can place additional knowledge, even when it is acquired informally, and at a later date. Though this benefit falls short of the "new perspective" promised to advanced students, it means that such a gift may someday be possible. But it is the corollary to that benefit that may be most important: without language study at the introductory and intermediate levels, most students will be doomed to live their life in a single language, and that represents a personal loss, a social loss, and possibly a professional loss.

Advanced Language Study

Language study at an advanced level offers all the advantages we have already mentioned, but in more powerful forms: it promises a more complete contact with other cultures and other peoples, more sophisticated perspectives, and more accomplished skills. Researchers suggest that learning a second language helps people think about language and texts in new ways, and develops skills for critical thinking which can be applied in many different situations. Learning another language certainly improves skills in a first language, which is why those who have studied another language tend to score better on scholastic aptitude tests.

But advanced studies also offer important career advantages because companies and public sector employers have always needed people who can communicate effectively in more than one language. In this global "information age" such needs can only increase–especially in a bilingual and multicultural country like Canada. Students who choose to pursue a degree in a second language sometimes do so with a teaching career in mind; but language study is also valuable preparation for civil service positions with federal, provincial, and municipal governments; for law; for journalism, publishing, and advertising; for financial industries and import-export companies; for travel and tourism; and for many other careers.

Courses and Programs Available

Western and its Affiliated University Colleges offer language instructions in French, Spanish, Italian, German, Portuguese, Russian, Arabic, Hindi, Japanese, Korean, Persian, Ancient Greek, Latin, Mohawk, Ojibway, Mandarin, Hebrew. Courses are regularly available during the fall and spring terms, and selectively available during intersession and summer sessions. A wide range of associated fields of study are also available, including literatures from all over the world taught both in the original and in translation, literary theory, culture and civilization, foreign film study, linguistics, and translation.

First-year courses are available in a variety of forms designed to meet the needs of students who may be absolute beginners, or who may come with different degrees of knowledge up to a level of proficiency equivalent to a grade 12 credit. A placement test will recommend the most appropriate course. Most first-year courses make use of multimedia computer technology to enhance learning through independent study.