Erik Hansen is a graduate student pursuing a Master of Public Policy and the “When I was a Mustang…” columnist.
As data is slowly released from the 2010 census, an interesting statistic to watch for will be the “language spoken in home.”
According to the previous census in 2000, there were 262.4 million people age 5 and over living in the United States. Of those, 47 million people (approximately 18 percent) spoke a language other than English in their homes.
Spanish was the second most widely spoken language, with 28.1 million people age 5 and over speaking Spanish in their homes. Spanish is followed far behind by Mandarin and Cantonese, counted as one language (Chinese) by the 2000 census, with two million people age 5 and over speaking Chinese in their homes.
While the majority of those who speak a language other than English at home can be found in major urban centers — a typical starting point for American immigrants — more and more suburban and rural communities are finding the need for bilingual employees to meet the demands of a changing populace. Setting aside for a moment the arguments about the need for a national language — or that those who refuse to learn English will never learn — those with a technical skill and fluency in a second, relevant language can improve their standing in the workplace and/or value in the job market.
Students who wish to boost their job resumes through the acquisition of a second language should check out Cal Poly’s modern languages and literatures department. The department offers comprehensive minors in French, German and Spanish. Elementary and intermediate coursework in Mandarin Chinese is available, and elementary coursework is offered in Japanese and Italian. Even if you are not required to take a language as a part of your degree program, why not consider adding a quarter or two of Spanish or Mandarin? It’s a chance to get language instruction and you could always take it credit/no credit.
Watching TV late at night, if you have ever flipped over from Skinemax to basic cable, you will have noticed infomercials for language products, and most prominently the Rosetta Stone. Rosetta Stone claims its products are used by the State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency and the Department of Defense.
Finding the time and self-control to sit and learn a second language on your own could be tough. This is especially true as a student, with schoolwork taking top priority in your already busy schedule. Again, this is why taking advantage of the course offerings at Cal Poly could be attractive to those wanting to pursue a second language.
Probably the quickest way to learn a second language, which is more out of pure necessity, is through immersion. Immersion is probably best left until after one has a basic understanding of the language, whether through a language product or academic instruction, and forces the speaker to hone and refine his or her speaking method to the local customs and/or slang. Immersion could also be as simple as having one’s bilingual friends or family only speak in their non-English dialect.
So before you think you’ve gotten all that you possibly can out of Cal Poly, think about putting your linguistic skills to the test and learning a second language — you never know when you’ll need it.