[lg policy] Multilingualism Is a Great Investment in Your Human Capital

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at gmail.com
Mon Feb 12 15:35:47 EST 2018

 Multilingualism Is a Great Investment in Your Human Capital

Diego Maguina Razuri
Contributing Writer
February 12, 2018

If you walk around Manhattan and stop paying attention to your phone, you
can hear several incomprehensible phrases from languages you might not even
know existed. As a person who grew up in South America, this is exactly
what happened to me during my everyday life in Chinatown. Most of us have
faced the challenge of learning a new language — all the time, effort and
money that goes into it might make you question its merit. However,
learning a new language is a rewarding effort and should be encouraged at

We have all heard the mainstream arguments about why learning a new
language is beneficial, such as it increases
your cognitive skills and helps you understand other cultures. While
everything has an opportunity cost, there is a practical reason why you
should learn a foreign language — it boosts your future income. A recent
study <https://www.mitpressjournals.org/doi/pdf/10.1162/0034653054638256>
has shown that there is a two to three percent increase in wages for
college graduates who speak a second language. While this may seem modest,
an article by The Economist explains
<https://www.economist.com/blogs/prospero/2014/03/language-study> that if
you additionally include an annual one percent real wage increase and
compound all for 40 years, you end up with an extra $67,000 by retirement.
However, not all languages have the same value. In the same article, The
Economist points out that the premium for speaking a second language
differs depending on each language. For example, a study
in the United Kingdom showed that German and Arabic speakers’ incomes are
on average greater than those of Italian speakers. No one can tell you
which is the best language to learn, but there are rational choices if you
plan on increasing your earnings.

Despite tangible evidence that bilingualism has been linked to higher
earnings, education systems in the United States do not stress
the importance of knowing another language. Only seven percent of college
students are enrolled in a language course, and less than one percent of
adults can claim they are fluent in a foreign language they learned in a
classroom. The U.S. is trailing
behind other countries. It is true that European geography makes it easier
and more compelling to adopt policies requiring multilingualism compared to
an isolated U.S. But NYU offers many resources for students to learn new
languages. As a global institute, NYU’s foreign language policy is
exceptional. The College of Arts and Science; Steinhardt School of Culture,
Education and Human Development and the Global Liberal Studies program
require undergraduate students to speak a foreign language at an
Intermediate II level before graduation. Meanwhile, students from the other
NYU schools and programs are still able to take a language as an elective
course. NYU offers courses for more than 15 different languages, and the
Columbia Language Exchange program allows
NYU students to enroll in even more language courses. The Speaking Freely
non-credit program allows
<https://cas.nyu.edu/content/nyu-as/cas/speakingfreely.html> students to
engage in short weekly learning sessions to learn popular languages at no
cost and without any graded assignments. Additionally, NYU offers
<https://www.nyu.edu/academics/studying-abroad.html> fully immersive
language experiences at a variety of campuses across the world, so that
students can be taught their courses in French while in France, for example.

Learning a new language, while difficult, is rewarding. Whether speaking a
new language increases your future earnings or allows you to immerse
yourself in different cultures, there are many benefits to be reaped, so
try it out. What do you have to lose?

*Opinions expressed on the editorial pages are not necessarily those of
WSN, and our publication of opinions is not an endorsement of them.*

*A version of this appeared in the Monday, February 12 print edition. Email
Diego Maguina Razuri at **opinion at nyunews.com* <opinion at nyunews.com>*.*


 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com

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