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Programming IT Technology

Learn a Foreign Language As an Engineer? 1021

Ben B writes "I'm working on an undergraduate degree in computer engineering in the US, and I'm a native English-speaking citizen. In fact, English is the only language that I know. Maybe it's not the same at other schools, but for the engineering program at mine, a foreign language is not required. If my plans are to one day be involved in research, is it worth my time to learn a foreign language? If so, which one?" Learning something new is almost never a waste of time, but how much energy have others found worthwhile to expend with all of the programming/math/tech type courses to be had at a large university?
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Learn a Foreign Language As an Engineer?

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 07, 2008 @06:15PM (#24090527)

    Chinese, Japanese, Hindi, Klingon.

    • Honestly, wouldn't mind taking a conversational Klingon course at some point.. ;) Definite geek cred there...
      • by Hojima ( 1228978 ) on Monday July 07, 2008 @07:36PM (#24091755)

        You could also learn Japanese for some geek cred if you're into anime (I hate having to wait for dattebayo to sub bleach). Also, I've heard that they have a deficiency of engineers (part of the contribution is that they are hesitant to hire foreign workers), and their economy is always awesome. Plus, Japanese girls are cute.

        • Re:Suggestions... (Score:5, Informative)

          by Jac_no_k ( 5957 ) <> on Monday July 07, 2008 @08:51PM (#24092605) Homepage Journal
          If you speak a bit of Japanese, fluent in English, and have technical skills, it's fairly easy to find work in Japan. I ended up in a company based in New York operating an office in Japan and I've been getting by with no Japanese at work.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by CptNerd ( 455084 )

        When I was a wee lad of 16 summers or so, I took 2 years of Latin in high school. Then when I got to the big kids school, the university, I took a year of German and a year of Russian, while also learning Pascal, Fortran, PL/1, Cobol, Basic, and VAX Assembler. Now, nearing the half-century mark (and on that long slope down) I've taken up Japanese, studying it for the past 3 years (and took a trip to Japan for a month, too. Worldcon 2007 FTW.)

        On a bad morning, I can get confused enough to sound like I know

    • by ( 1108067 ) on Monday July 07, 2008 @06:21PM (#24090673) Homepage Journal

      ... Metric ...

      At least that way, gas prices won't seem so bad when they're priced in litres instead of gallons.

    • by SQLGuru ( 980662 ) on Monday July 07, 2008 @06:43PM (#24091027) Journal

      Learn Norwegian......Norwegian hot chicks
      Learn Portugese......Brazillian hot chicks
      Learn Swiss..........Swedish hot chicks
      Learn Japanese.......Cosplay...errr Japanese hot chicks
      Learn Khoisan........because noone else will (


      • Re:Suggestions... (Score:5, Informative)

        by Yold ( 473518 ) on Monday July 07, 2008 @06:52PM (#24091179)

        Swedish and Norwegian are very similar languages. You can learn the other pretty easily if you speak one (or some my Swedish-ex used to say).

        There is no "Swiss" language, they speak German, Italian, and French.

      • Re:Suggestions... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by mixmatch ( 957776 ) on Monday July 07, 2008 @07:21PM (#24091589) Homepage

        Learn Swiss..........Swedish hot chicks


        I would think Swedish chicks would speak Swedish and Swiss chicks would speak German, French, Italian,or Romansh...

    • Re:Suggestions... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by MrResistor ( 120588 ) <> on Tuesday July 08, 2008 @01:35AM (#24095711) Homepage

      There's a lot of computer related tech research coming out of China and Korea these days, and I would expect both countries to grow in those areas. If you're learning a language for professional reasons either would be good.

  • by Breconides ( 253014 ) on Monday July 07, 2008 @06:15PM (#24090537) Homepage

    It seems to me that if you are planning on working in the United States, your time would be better spent focusing on your Computer studies. Most foreign engineers here speak English.

    IF, however, you were planning on going abroad, then speaking the local language would get you a lot of "street cred" that you would otherwise be lacking.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Another way to look at it is "Who will you be doing research with? What do they speak?" It's not just about travel; being able to communicate in other languages opens a lot of doors.
      • Yah but in the US, just about everyone who is educated enough to be an engineer knows English. Sure there might be a few on business trips who will only speak other languages, but here in the US unless you are traveling a lot you only need to know English.
    • by Free the Cowards ( 1280296 ) on Monday July 07, 2008 @06:46PM (#24091065)

      It seems to me that if you are planning on working in the United States, your time would be better spent focusing on your Computer studies. Most foreign engineers here speak English.

      I disagree. Much like learning an impractical but interesting computer language, the time spent learning a foreign language has many benefits in terms of widening your perspective, giving you new ways to think about things, etc. beyond the simple ability to use it in the country or countries where it is spoken.

      The time spent is pretty small in the end. And that time really doesn't come out of your computer studies. It's such a different activity that it's the kind of thing that can help recharge your brain from all that math and programming. The benefits are well worth it.

    • by wumingzi ( 67100 ) on Monday July 07, 2008 @08:27PM (#24092369) Homepage Journal

      It seems to me that if you are planning on working in the United States, your time would be better spent focusing on your Computer studies. Most foreign engineers here speak English.

      1) I strongly advise learning a foreign language just to make yourself a better person. My Mandarin is pretty good, and my Spanish is -- well, enough to get me in trouble when in Spanish-speaking environments.

      2) While there are good reasons to learn foreign languages for business purposes, especially if you already have plans on joining the dark side and working for purchasing/marketing/logistics, etc., speaking from a CSci/Engineering point of view, English is the lingua franca of scientific work, and will probably remain so for some time. There are two up-and-coming economies, India and China. University-educated Indians speak English. Chinese for some structural reasons is not likely to become a replacement for English soon. I will explain.

      One of the strengths of English is it's effortless ability to absorb foreign words when it becomes necessary to do so. Thus we have acquired cryptography (Greek Kryptos), carnivore (Latin carne and vorare), and otaku (Japanese Otaku), etc. etc.

      Chinese cannot do that and maintain the "structural integrity" of the language. Chinese is written in characters. Characters generally apply to meaning. There is no katakana alphabet like Japanese to phonetically express words of foreign origin. While there are exceptions; "coffee" becomes ka fei and "Coca Cola" becomes ke ko ke le ("Happiness in the mouth". No kidding. The "bite the wax tadpole" of urban legend would be a completely different set of characters, and is seldom if ever used). More frequently, things and concepts become Sinicised. "Hard drive" becomes ying die (hard platter), "Printer" becomes yin biao ji (imprint display machine), and "postmodernism" becomes hou xian dai zhu yi (after modern period principle/ideology), etc. etc.

      The end result of this is that most hardware engineering in China is done in English. There is generally no parallel chipset documentation put out by UMC or Taiwan Semiconductor documenting the timing and logic in Mandarin, as it would serve no purpose but to drive everyone insane.

      If you DO learn to speak Chinese, you will get 50,000 cool points with your Chinese-speaking colleagues. Whether it will ever add a dollar to your bank account I can't say. It hasn't done anything for mine.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Froggie ( 1154 )

        University-educated Indians speak English

        More to the point, if you you choose to learn an Indian language, which one do you pick? Hindi is widely spoken outside its local area, in the same way English is, but it's not spoken by everyone.

        In Bangalore the local language is Kannada (which most foreigners have never heard of). Go 30 miles down the road to Tamil Nadu and the local language is Tamil. And so it goes on. Plus the problem that all three of these Indian languages (and several others) have differe

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Maxmin ( 921568 )

      Spanish, within the U.S., is spoken by at least ten percent of the population [] (around 32 million domestically, plus Spanish is spoken by approximately 330 million worldwide []), so that's a good starting place.

      As it's a Romance Language, Spanish is an excellent gateway to Italian (around 60 million world-wide), Portuguese (together with Brazilian Portuguese, around 170 million) [], and French (80 million) [], not to mention all the second cousins (Catalan [], Romansh [], etc.)

      Since the OP appears to read/write English, th

  • by ( 1108067 ) on Monday July 07, 2008 @06:15PM (#24090541) Homepage Journal

    If you're going to stay in the US, you might as well increase your value by learning spanish.

    If you're looking at the EU, learn spanish, italian, german, french, or russian.

    If you're looking in asia, mandarin.

    If you're looking at india, hindi (or PROPER english).

    • by Dan667 ( 564390 )
      If you live in the Southwest or Texas I agree with learning Spanish. Your marketability goes up dramatically if you have a fairly good grasp of it.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Pie chart is also a valuable language

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by lkypnk ( 978898 )

      As a Canadian, I have had French education since a fairly young age, and despite the general uselessness of French elsewhere in the world (besides France), speaking French is actually useful in Canada, it opens up certain jobs in businesses, government, etc. which are otherwise closed to monolingual speakers. Hell, in Ottawa or Montreal, bilingualism can secure you a job you might not otherwise get at McDonalds!

      And so I recommend Spanish for Americans. It's one of the "easiest" languages for a native Eng

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by krog ( 25663 )

        and despite the general uselessness of French elsewhere in the world (besides France)

        Many Africans speak French, due to past French occupation of their countries. As a non-native French speaker, I actually find Africans much easier to understand than any French or Canadian speakers; Africans speak much more slowly.

        These countries are not well-represented in IT or the sciences, however.

      • If you want to learn a language so as to be able to speak it competently, remember: learning a language is an incredible amount of hard work, especially something like Mandarin or Russian which are quite wildly different from English.

        Actually I think it depends on the person and how the language is taught. In college I took classes on campus in both French and German and I took a class in Mandarin Chinese where I was learning Kong Fu. Though we learned writing with both Chinese ideograms and the Pin yin [] r

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by subStance ( 618153 )

      > If you're looking in asia, mandarin.

      Hmmm ... I wouldn't say it's as simple as that. As an english speaker who picked up japanese so I could work in japan, I can say from experience that the chinese language speakers I had around me learning japanese had it tougher than I did, mainly because they were subconsciously trying to treat japanese as a dialect of chinese. It took them twice as long to get productive because of how much they had to unlearn, and they usually ticked off most of the japanese peopl

    • by Quattro Vezina ( 714892 ) on Monday July 07, 2008 @06:42PM (#24091013) Journal

      Hindi? I'm not sure about that...most Indians in the tech industry are south Indians. In other words, they speak Kannada, Telugu, and Tamil. Not Hindi.

      No, really. Look at all of the cities that are described as "the Silicon Valley of the East". They are Bangalore (Kannada-speaking), Hyderabad (Telugu-speaking), and Chennai (Tamil-speaking).

      If you're going into engineering and want to move to India, look to the south.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by vistic ( 556838 )

        However, most people from India you meet will have some knowledge of Hindi if they're not completely fluent. It's an official language and the language of most of their major films. So if you're going after a common tongue, Hindi is probably the safest bet.

        If you know specifically what city you want to go to, or you know specifically that you will be dealing with people who hail from one particular city, then obviously go with that language (I seem to recall a lot of Tamil speakers at school).

    • by owlnation ( 858981 ) on Monday July 07, 2008 @07:51PM (#24091957)

      If you're looking at the EU, learn spanish, italian, german, french, or russian.

      Italian is only spoken in Italy and a tiny part of Switzerland. Spanish only in Spain, and Spain is more of a Second World country. Neither will get you very far anywhere outside of those respective countries. It's not like the in the Americas -- people don't speak Spanish much in the EU -- other than tourist Spanish anyway... There are more Poles than Spaniards, you'd be better off learning that than Spanish.

      French is widely spoken. German is widely spoken (in fact, it has the highest number of native speakers of all languages in Europe)(though not always welcome). Russian is rarely spoken outside of Kaliningrad and Karlovy Vary, but is widely understood (though rarely very welcome.)

  • stick to english (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Surt ( 22457 ) on Monday July 07, 2008 @06:16PM (#24090551) Homepage Journal

    There are publications in basically every language in CS/CE. If you really want to learn one, pick from Japanese, German, French, Russian, Chinese.

    But it won't do you much good, and in reality, you'll never have time to read foreign journals (or looked at another way, it would be a comparative waste of your time given the quantity of good material you could be reading in English).

    • by Otter ( 3800 ) on Monday July 07, 2008 @06:28PM (#24090819) Journal
      There are all sorts of great reasons to learn foreign languages (travel, business, enjoyment, meeting college requirements). But for doing it for your research isn't a good reason, unless you're interested in doing a research stint abroad (which well you might if you're interested in supercomputing or botnets).
    • There is no career/business reason for an American engineer to learn a foreign language, ESPECIALLY if you're already in college and don't know one. You would be far better off spending that time learning more engineering, or taking business classes.

      Basically anyone you're going to run into in Engineering is going to know English better than you're going to know whatever it is you take for a few semesters in college.

      Now, that's not to say learning a foreign language might not be fun, or a good way to balan

  • Absolutely. (Score:5, Informative)

    by TJ_Phazerhacki ( 520002 ) on Monday July 07, 2008 @06:16PM (#24090555) Journal
    Russian, Chinese, or Arabic. Bilingualism is a FANTASTIC resume skill, and it will likely pop up more than you think. If I spoke Russian instead of Spanish as a 2nd language, I could have taken a 3 month trip to Moscow with the QA team.
  • It depends... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by aztracker1 ( 702135 ) on Monday July 07, 2008 @06:17PM (#24090565) Homepage
    With the shear number of outsourced and H1B workers in the IT community, it may well be worthwhile. I haven't taken any foreign language courses myself. But the more I've worked with Russian, and/or Indian programmers, the more I think about it.

    I wouldn't let it distract you from your main coursework though, that is most important. Foreign language study should be in line with business courses. Not necessary for starting out, but helpful in moving up.
  • Find something (Score:5, Insightful)

    by 77Punker ( 673758 ) <<ude.tniophgih> <ta> <40rcneps>> on Monday July 07, 2008 @06:17PM (#24090571)

    When I was getting my BS in Computer Science (class of 08!), I took 3 semesters of Spanish and 1 Chinese. Taking foreign languages forces you to think in new ways, which is what problem solving is all about. Also, Spanish and Chinese are both fairly similar to English, but Spanish was fun for me while Chinese was just a pain in the ass since very few of the words are cognates.

    • I think Chinese is an easier language. You don't have to deal with verb conjugation and tenses. Grammatically, it is a simpler language.

      It is an easy language to learn. I went to China and saw little kids speaking it, therefore it must be easy.

  • by Zarhan ( 415465 ) on Monday July 07, 2008 @06:18PM (#24090589)

    Mandarin Chinese.

    If you actually want to enjoy, pick something that you actually have an interest in. Ton of anime junkies have picked up Japanese for example. If you like Bollywood, learn Hindi. And so on...

    • by patio11 ( 857072 ) on Monday July 07, 2008 @07:12PM (#24091443)

      1) Japan is the world's second largest economy (going to be 3rd eventually after China gets big)
      2) Japan is America's #2 trading partner, probably #1 in software (no time to look it up)
      3) Most Japanese people don't speak business-level English (engineers are worse than almost any college-educated profession at this)
      4) ... almost NO Americans speak business level Japanese
      5) ... this gets in the way of multi-million dollar deals every day of the week

      Bonus points: its so much harder to learn Japanese (and Japanese business culture & etc) than it is to learn Java that you become essentially outsourcing-proof. Trust me: my Japanese employer is trying like crazy to find Indians who speak Japanese and can program, and its needle in a haystack even when multiplied by a population of a billion. So we get English speaking Indians instead. Somebody needs to be able to talk with the Indians on a level deeper than "Hello, nice to meet you. This is a pen", so I get promoted. (Our other bilinguals are the CEO and two department heads, and their time is too valuable to use doing low-level management on one programming team.)

  • by bluefoxlucid ( 723572 ) on Monday July 07, 2008 @06:18PM (#24090597) Homepage Journal

    Hab SoSlI' Quch!

  • by Archangel Michael ( 180766 ) on Monday July 07, 2008 @06:20PM (#24090639) Journal

    is it worth my time to learn a foreign language? If so, which one?


    I'm currently living with four (4) girls (three daughters, wife) all of which are able to speak in riddles and conundrums that they themselves understand, while leaving me completely at a loss of any valuable information.

    Interestingly enough, this Girlspeak language transcends cultural boundaries! It is simply amazing how two girls can communicate without actually knowing the native tongue of the other.

    The fact is, I've spent half a lifetime trying to understand girlspeak without much progress.

  • It could be useful depending on where you want to work. If you want to work just in the US, I don't think another language would be all that much of an advantage. If you want to go work in Europe, or some other place with lots of cultures, then English should be somewhat standard. Other good languages to know would probably include French, German, Spanish, Hindi, Cantonese, or Mandarin. For an English speaker, the first three would probably be the easiest to learn, because you already know the character s
  • by Yergle143 ( 848772 ) on Monday July 07, 2008 @06:20PM (#24090651)
    This X-engineering student notes that adding German to my curriculum tacked one extra semester onto my studies. To say it was not encouraged is understating the case: I was told not to waste my time. Years have passed and the rest of my studies are some vague blur involving plumbing; but I can still speak German. Learn Mandarin. ---537
  • If you intend to stay in the US you'll want to learn Spanish.

  • Most of the R&D in the world is being published in English, but adding either of those languages will get you a pretty big chunk of the rest.


  • by wild_quinine ( 998562 ) on Monday July 07, 2008 @06:23PM (#24090723) Homepage
    A friend of mine is deeply embroiled in a PhD Thesis, in History. He's interested in the history of an order of monks. At the beginning of this, it became obvious that he was going to need to be pretty damn fluent in French. It's amazing what you can do when you have reason, and put your mind to it. He was reading in six weeks, and genuinely fluent in half a year. The motivation was clear.

    Concentrate on what you need to concentrate on, and expand your horizons when it becomes necessary. This will provide the most efficient use of time in almost all cases - provided you don't become so focussed on whatever you're into that you genuinely don't notice when a new skill is required. (That's the only real risk of getting in too deep).

    Despite this view on life, I've always had a great admiration for those who enjoy learning activities in their lesiure time. Personally I've always preferred video games.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Lord Duran ( 834815 )
      There's a slight problem with that view; Your historian Ph.D. researcher friend became fluent in French because that's what he's spending his daytime on. His work, at the moment, revolves around a french order of some sort; of course he will learn French. Even before he learned French, he probably dabbled around with dictionaries working with French sources all the time, and hit a barrier he couldn't pass without learning French properly. But a computer-engineering graduate is most likely to be dealing wit
  • Study Latin. You'll learn more about English and other Romantic languages than you could ever learn learning a single one of them. However, if you can't be convinced to take up Latin, but want another language quickly, check out Esperanto. If you want another language with which you can communicate with people immediately, find a large contingent of native something speakers at your school and befriend them, i.e. learn a language which your peers can help you learn and practice. It might even score you a gi

  • Steps to guaranteed happiness:

    1. Learn basics; enough to buy beers, etc
    2. Go live in foreign country
    3. Put advert out for "language interchange"
    4. Reply to females only
    5. Get them drunk (it helps with learning don't-you-know)
    6, some point... Profit!

    Even works for geeks! Trust me I know!

  • Keep in mind... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by HungWeiLo ( 250320 )

    To attain the fluency required to read academic papers in their respective native languages, you're looking at going to said country and going native for 10 years. 5 at the very minimum.

    • Re:Keep in mind... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Max Romantschuk ( 132276 ) <> on Tuesday July 08, 2008 @12:44AM (#24095209) Homepage

      Being fluent in Swedish, Finnish, and English, pretty good in French, and having basic communication skills in German, I honestly can't believe how clueless you are.

      It is true that having the opportunity to actually use a second, third or fourth language has a huge impact on your proficiency in said language. But never having lived in a English-dominated country and having been told that I have a larger vocabulary than some natives, as well as having a bunch of local friends who speak two or three languages just fine... I'll just repeat myself, you're clueless.

      Then again, living in Europe (Finland) being multilingual is no big deal.

  • If so, go right ahead.

    If in the long term you do want to do research somewhere, or in the short term just visit, it makes sense to speak a bit of the language, even if it's just food and beer. I don't think that I'd bother if you're never going to use it though, unless you want to e.g. understand Bergman films in the original Swedish.

    I can't speak for the rest of the world, but across Europe in business there's generally a reasonable grasp of English - I've heard of people living and working in some non-En

  • by Yold ( 473518 ) on Monday July 07, 2008 @06:25PM (#24090759)

    English is the lingua franca, so from a business standpoint, if you want to be an engineer type dude, you are probably set.

    Chinese would be smart if you want to make more money learning a foreign language, so is Arabic. Russian is damn hard, but that would greatly increase your marketability as well. Like if you want to be a consultant or something later on.

    If you want to learn a language for the hell of it, I'd recommend a romance language. Pick one that seems interesting, French and Italian are very pretty sounding. IMHO, German is very cool from a logical standpoint, many words are simply conjugations of smaller words.

    Here is a list of the 30 most spoken languages: []

  • > is it worth my time to learn a foreign language? If so, which one?

    Is it worth your time to live in a foreign land? Taking language courses will give you academic credits, but practical linguistic skill comes bundled with learning the culture.

  • Too Late (Score:3, Interesting)

    by the eric conspiracy ( 20178 ) * on Monday July 07, 2008 @06:25PM (#24090765)

    It is much easier to learn a foreign language when you are younger. By the time you get to university the effort is probably not worth it from a career point of view, if you are an English speaker. English is the primary language used in technology fields world wide so you already know the language that almost all research is published in.

    That being said, studying a foreign language is enjoyable from a personal enrichment point of view. I studied French in high school and hated it. But later in life I went to work for a French owned company that paid for French lessons - that high school stuff came back quickly, and it made the times I traveled to France on business a more enjoyable because I could interact more easily with the people and surroundings than if I had no understanding of the language. Because of that experience I now enjoy reading and watching French language books and movies.

    • Re:Too Late (Score:5, Interesting)

      by stephanruby ( 542433 ) on Monday July 07, 2008 @07:23PM (#24091605)

      It is much easier to learn a foreign language when you are younger.

      This is part truth and part old wife's tale. Yes, there are some things in a language that are more difficult to learn once you're older.

      But no, the reality is that with proper immersion most adults can learn a new foreign language in twelve weeks or less (and in some cases depending on the language itself, that includes a rudimentary level of reading and writing in that language as well). Now how many 2 year olds, 6 year olds, or 10 year olds, do you know that can do the same in twelve weeks or less?

      The truth is that with proper immersion, most kids will learn a new foreign language over a year -- or over several years, it's just that we don't really count their time -- the same way we adults count our own time (after all, we have things to do as adults, and them -- the kids -- the kids seem like they're wasting their time watching things like Pokemon). And it's also partly based on the fact that for those of us who did learn a foreign language as a kid, we didn't really remember how we learned it -- so we just assume -- that in hindsight -- it must have been really easy and really fast.

  • There are two types of people. Bilingual people and Americans. Please learn another language, it is good for the brain. It will increase your marketability even if its not that useful a language employers respect it. More useful languages would probably be asian (mandarin, japanese). But it depends what field you are going into and if you intend to leave the country.

  • by PPH ( 736903 ) on Monday July 07, 2008 @06:29PM (#24090847)
    .... Elbonian.
  • Most definintely! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by $criptah ( 467422 ) on Monday July 07, 2008 @06:31PM (#24090871) Homepage

    Foreign languages are priceless in today's world of constant internationalization. I work with people form Germany, Russia, Japan, Norway and Brazil. I speak one foreign language and I wish I knew more. In fact, not knowing Spanish has bitten me in the rear because I could have advanced my career by moving to Latin America where I would fly up the corporate ladder. As somebody who got hired (at least once) for my foreign language and IT skills, I firmly believe that speaking a foreign language is a good career boost.

    We have been in many situations were customers from Asia and other parts of the world love to pay extra big bugs for specialists who speak their langauge. It is not that they don't want to speak English, it is the fact that they prefer to deal with people who can speak English and their own language just in case. Technical people who know English + one of CJK or Spanish are becoming priceless because Latin American and Asia are booming. When our company was rapidly expanding, we could not hire enough engineers who were fluent in several languages. Those who got hired received more than generous packages and relocation opportunities. While this may not be appealing to a married person with a couple of kids, a young single college graduate will sure appreciate a six month gig in Japan paid for by an employer. This really helps if you end up working in a small (but well paid) field. You help your employer with building a new customer base in a remote part of the world and suddenly you go from a college graduate to a young professional who brought a company XYZ to a new country. As you can tell from my post, I am all about speaking as many languages as possible.

    The bottom line is: Learn language if you would like to be qualified for more opportunities when it comes to travel and corporate mobility. If you believe that your current town/city/country is the best place in the world, then do not bother.

  • by Colin Smith ( 2679 ) on Monday July 07, 2008 @06:33PM (#24090915)

    You can go to as many classes as you like, but it's an entirely different thing to actually use a language.


  • Study Abroad (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Dolohov ( 114209 ) on Monday July 07, 2008 @06:35PM (#24090937)

    Don't just learn the language, study abroad -- I took Japanese and spent a term at Kansai Gaidai. The experiences of a) being put into an entirely new environment and b) being forced to set aside engineering for a term, were both invaluable. It was a tremendous aid as well in terms of getting into grad school.

  • Japanese (Score:3, Informative)

    by caywen ( 942955 ) on Monday July 07, 2008 @06:45PM (#24091047)
    Japan is going to make a huge comeback. And their 3-way writing system is good for your mind. Hiragana will teach you elegance and harmony. Katakana will teach you adaptation. Kanji, though, will just drive you nuts.
  • by robbo ( 4388 ) <<slashdot> <at> <>> on Monday July 07, 2008 @06:45PM (#24091049)

    Once you know C you can learn any language. ;-)

  • Learn Bocce (Score:4, Funny)

    by d'fim ( 132296 ) on Monday July 07, 2008 @06:46PM (#24091079)

    Don't waste your time learning Wookie -- they're not hiring right now. But if you can speak Bocce then you can get a job on any of the Hutt-controlled planets. What the galaxy really needs, however, is a droid who understands the binary language of moisture vaporators. I suggest taking some classes in Human-Cyborg Relations.

  • Chinese. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Xthlc ( 20317 ) on Monday July 07, 2008 @07:06PM (#24091381)

    I am a computer scientist working for a major industrial research lab.

    English is still the primary language for technology research publications, and will continue to be so for the near future. So don't worry about needing to read foreign journals. Yes some French or German or Japanese might help you find a few more obscure things, but generally if the work is worthwhile it eventually gets published in English.

    However, personally I think you should learn Mandarin Chinese. Why?

    1) There's a gigantic pool of IT research talent in China that we're only beginning to tap. They publish primarily in English, but their spoken English is generally poor with some exceptions. It's a tremendous benefit to know at least some Chinese in order to be able to socialize with your Chinese colleagues at a conference or when visiting. And I'm fairly certain that if you make a career in research in the next 50 years, you will be visiting and possibly living in the PRC at some point.

    2) Research isn't for everyone. If you discover this at an awkward time in your career, it helps to have other skills to fall back on. Being able to speak Chinese is already a significant career asset, and this is likely to continue.

    3) Spoken Chinese is a great language to learn, because it challenges a native-English-speaker's conceptions of grammar and meaning. It forced me to think about language in a whole new way, similar to how Prolog completely broke my brain as a sophomore CS undergrad.

    All that said, Chinese fluency requires 8+ years of intensive education and immersion to develop; you will most likely never become as proficient in it as you might in a Western language.

  • by Pollux ( 102520 ) <speter&tedata,net,eg> on Monday July 07, 2008 @07:16PM (#24091491) Journal

    I would recommend holding off on learning languages at the University unless you are either interested in the language or intend to pursue a career in a place where that language is spoken.

    My experiences with foreign languages:

    • I studied German in high school. Haven't spoken a lick of it since, and I can't remember a single bit of it.
    • I studied Norwegian in college. I enjoyed it, because I had a few Norwegian friends, plus it's part of my heritage. I put a lot more effort into it, and got a lot out of it. But, I haven't spoken or studied it in five years. I can't remember much of it anymore.
    • I studied Arabic my first year out of college. I taught Mathematics in Egypt for a year. I heard the language everyday, so learning it was easy (thanks much in part to having a great tutor). I used Arabic every day, and as a reward learned vast amounts of knowledge about the people and their culture because of it...not to mention all the times I stopped Arabs from conning me or my family out of money by chewing them out in their own language. I can still speak what I've learned to this day, even though I haven't resided in Egypt for four years.

    If you know what you are going to college for, then work towards that goal. Don't take a foreign language just because you think you should. It will usually end up being a waste of time. You will appreciate a foreign language far more if you actually learn it while living in the country where it's spoken, and you will retain it far longer than learning a language only from a book. There are great career opportunities overseas for engineers...always have been, always will be, and I strongly recommend pursuing one, even if it's only for six months to a year. Then, while you're there, study up on the language. When you're there, then it's incredibly rewarding.

  • Fail (Score:3, Insightful)

    by countach ( 534280 ) on Monday July 07, 2008 @07:37PM (#24091777)

    If you attempt to learn a language for the sake of your computer career you will almost certainly fail. But if you learn because you are fascinated by a particular culture, you have a hope of succeeding. Wait till you acquire such a fascination, then learn.

  • by W. Justice Black ( 11445 ) on Monday July 07, 2008 @08:28PM (#24092381) Homepage

    I took both Japanese and French. Ramifications:

    With Japanese, I understand i18n issues EXTREMELY well (word order, multi-byte charsets, the horrific beast that is iso-8022-jp, input methods, etc, etc).

    With French, my understanding of English grammar and its idiosyncrasies was much improved. As an added plus, my wife thinks it's sexy :-).

    Neither is probably an optimal second language for an English speaker, but they illustrate two goals that are different from the one you imply (i.e. to understand stuff written in a different language).

    A language that has some similarities to your native tongue will grant you a much better understanding of your native tongue (plus it will be easier to learn because of cognates, etc).

    A language that is radically different from your native language will open your mind to very different patterns of thought (without the flashbacks ;-) ). Particularly for i18n code (and everyone's writing i18n-friendly code, right?), this is a big deal.

    I won't be reading any heavy tech papers in either language, but the experiences have been invaluable.

    My suggestions: Spanish for the Latin language, maybe Mandarin or Japanese (still) for the "weird" one.

  • DO IT. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by protohiro1 ( 590732 ) on Monday July 07, 2008 @08:38PM (#24092503) Homepage Journal
    DO IT. Seriously, this is your big chance to have the time to take a foreign language. I took french in college, did study abroad had a blast and I am fluent in a second language. If you don't do it now you are going to have A LOT of trouble doing it later. Passable fluency in french took me 3 years of college level french, plus about six months living there (half of which was working, the other half on study abroad). You will have a lot of trouble finding the time to do that once college is over. I could go on, but basically there is no reason not to do it. You probably need to take some non engineering classes to graduate anyway, and you are going to seriously regret it if you go through college and never take the chance to do something other than what you're going to spend the rest of your life doing.
  • by gr8dude ( 832945 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2008 @05:54AM (#24097383) Homepage

    Check out this essay - "Mnemonic chains" [], I explain how knowing multiple languages can help you memorize something that you hear easier.

    Basically, when you hear some information (audio input), you transform that input into another language before writing it down - this way your brain makes several passes over the data - so more of it is cached (or dumped to the archive).

    I speak Russian, Romanian and English fluently; I always think and write in English, even though everyone around speaks one of the other two languages. I also find myself translating my thoughts from English before speaking - maybe this is somewhat slower, but as this is another chain in the data processing - I get yet another chance to review my thoughts before making them public.

    The essay provides more details, and explains which other techniques can be applied to enhance the effect.

Each honest calling, each walk of life, has its own elite, its own aristocracy based on excellence of performance. -- James Bryant Conant