Looking at an object as simple as a pencil can often elicit completely different meanings for speakers of foreign languages.
As the speaker of four languages, including French, Spanish and Russian, Christi Brookes can easily think of four off the top of her head.
“In French it’s a crayon, in Russian it’s a karandash, in English it’s a pencil, and in Spanish it’s a lápiz,” Brookes said.
Brookes, the chairwoman of the Foreign Languages, Literatures and Cultures department, is familiar with the other benefits of knowing at least one other language – especially when it comes to applying for jobs and graduate school.
“Second, third and fourth languages stand out in applying for jobs and grad school,” Brookes said. “When you have another language, you demonstrate flexibility and the ability to go beyond borders and be culturally open-minded.”
Louise Sawaya and Jessica Sharkey, both biochemistry majors and Spanish minors, plan to use the knowledge of a second language in their future careers.
Sawaya, a Westland junior, hopes to be a physician.
“I want to work in or around an area where there’s a lot of Spanish speakers and also for an international health organization,” she said.
Sharkey, a Sterling Heights sophomore, plans to be able to connect with more people with knowledge of a second language.
“In our society, there’s a growing number of people who don’t speak English, and it’s important to be able to interact with them,” Sharkey said.
Aside from increased job opportunities, knowing another language in addition to one’s native language has other benefits students might not be aware of.
“Knowing a second language gives you better abstract thinking skills,” Brookes said. “Students who study a foreign language also improve in their native language.”
At CMU, 1,000 students are enrolled in a foreign language course this semester. Courses offered include Spanish, French, German, Japanese, Chinese and Arabic.
Most students taking language courses at CMU are enrolled in the beginning and intermediate options for the U.P.
Of the students who are enrolled in the high-level foreign language courses, most of them major in the subject, while fewer minor.
Brookes said she recognizes some students do not have time for a major, but recommends one, if possible.
Best of all, Sharkey said, learning a language also allows you to see simple things, like a pencil, differently.
“Seeing a different life and the chance to study abroad are the best parts about studying a foreign language,” Sharkey said.