This article is an excerpt from the book Why Should I Learn This. To order click here:Paperback
Why Should I Learn Spanish?
Irma Luz Schmitt
As our world has increasingly become interdependent, we can no longer afford to remain monolingual. Success depends in large part on the ability of an individual to function as a member of a global place whose members speak a variety of languages. Today, there are tremendous changes in the way the current generation of students interact with the world. Such changes give the study of languages (and the cultural learning that comes with it) a new dimension and importance.
Spanish in the global community
More and more businesses and organizations value employees with oral and written fluency in Spanish—a language giving access to one of the fastest-growing markets in the world. Consider these statistics:
- Spanish is the world's third most spoken language, after Mandarin Chinese and English, and ranks second in terms of native speakers; today, almost 500 million people worldwide speak Spanish.1, 2
- Spanish is the mother tongue of approximately 388 million people in 21 countries (Mexico: 102 million, USA: 45 million, Spain: 44 million, Colombia: 44 million, Argentina: 39 million, Venezuela: 28 million, Peru: 28 million).3 It is also widely spoken in many more where it is not an official language.4
- Close to 53 million people living in the U.S. are Hispanic; the Hispanic population of the United States as of July 1, 2012, making people of Hispanic origin the nation's largest ethnic or racial minority. Hispanics constituted 17 percent of the nation's total population.5
- Thirty-seven million Americans are Spanish speakers.6 In the past, learning Spanish used to be a way to open doors, but soon it will be a necessity, because Hispanic consumers are the fastest-growing market segment in North America.7
Spanish in the Liberal Arts Tradition
Not only is learning Spanish becoming increasingly important in terms of the global economy, but it can also play a major role in your own personal development. Whether you decide to study business, political science, or some other major area, a good command of Spanish may very well make the difference in getting a job.
In the tradition of a liberal arts education, learning a second language helps to expand your view of the world and appreciate differences among peoples.8 The study of foreign languages is an integral and indispensable part of higher education. In the traditional view, a person may be trained to competence in an occupation or profession, but to be educated in a liberal way, he or she must move beyond the limitations of one's native tongue.
Through study of another language, students develop personality and sharpen intellect—acquiring a greater capacity for memorization and learning. Did you know that studying a second language can improve your skills and grades in math and English, and can improve entrance exam scores—SATs, ACTs, GREs, MCATs, and LSATs?9 Research has shown that math and verbal SAT scores climb higher with each additional year of foreign language study,10 which means that the longer you study a foreign language, the stronger your ability becomes to succeed in school.11 Studying a foreign language can improve your analytic and interpretive capacities.12 And three years of language study on your record will catch the eye of anyone reading your job, college, or graduate school application.13
The Spanish-English connection
Studying a second language helps you gain a new perspective and understanding of the English language as well. Much of the vocabulary of English has Latin origins, and since Spanish is also a Latin language, you will find as you study Spanish that you have a better understanding of your native vocabulary.14 Similarly, both Spanish and English share Indo-European roots, so their grammars are similar. There is perhaps no more effective way to learn English grammar than to study the grammar of another language.15 Doing so forces you to think about how your language is structured. It's not unusual, for example, to gain an understanding of English verbs' tenses and moods by learning how those verbs are used in Spanish. And if you can learn Spanish, you'll have a head start in learning the other Latin-based languages such as French and Italian.16
Spanish is one of the easiest foreign languages to learn.17 Much of its vocabulary is similar to English's, and written Spanish is almost completely phonetic: Look at almost any Spanish word and you can tell how it is pronounced. And while mastering Spanish grammar can be a challenge, basic grammar is straightforward.
Foreign language requirement for college
Competitive colleges generally require at least two years of foreign language classes in high school. Some colleges would like to see three or more years, and Harvard suggest applicants to take four years.18 These classes should be in the same language—colleges would much prefer to see proficiency in one language than a superficial knowledge of several languages.
When a college recommends two or more years of a language, they are clearly signaling that language study beyond two years would strengthen your application. Indeed, no matter where you apply for college, a demonstrated proficiency in a second language will strengthen your application. Life in college and after college is becoming increasingly globalized, so strength in a second language carries a lot of weight with admissions counselors.19
Learning foreign languages is no longer a pastime—it is a necessity that can yield remarkable personal and professional satisfaction.
About the Author
Irma Luz Schmitt was born in Ciudad Victoria, Tamaulipas, México. She graduated from the Instituto y de de Monterrey (Monterrey Institute of Technology) in Monterrey, México, with a Bachelor’s degree in Accounting in 1986 and a Master’s Degree in Education in 1999. In 2005, she earned a certification from Cambridge University in England to teach English as a second language.
Irma Luz Schmitt offers online Spanish courses for middle and high school students with Homeschool Connections as both live, interactive courses and recorded, independent-study courses. She and her husband live and homeschool in Delaware.