Students often think to minor in a subject that will eventually complement their major area of study. I did this myself, majoring in finance while taking a minor in marketing. But one course of study that’s often overlooked as a potential minor is a foreign language.
In the world as it is today, and particularly in Canada, having only some familiarity with a significant foreign language could prove to be a real advantage especially when it comes to employment opportunities.
Canada does a lot of business with the rest of the world
Canadian trade with the rest of the world totals nearly $1 trillion, or about half the size of the total economy. This makes Canada heavily intertwined with the rest of the world economically.
Apart from the United States, some of the major trading partners include China, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Germany, France and The Netherlands. That would seem to make Japanese, Korean, Spanish, German, French, Dutch or one or more Chinese dialects (such as Cantonese or Mandarin) logical choices for second languages.
Canada does a lot of business with the US which is also experiencing an influx of foreign languages from both trade and immigration. The Spanish speaking population in Canada is relatively small, but it’s now a substantial block in the US. Having at least some familiarity with Spanish could be a real advantage if you’ll be working for a Canadian employer that does a lot of business in the US.
The world is coming to CanadaFrench of course has always been significant in Canada, both as a first and second language. But an increasing number of languages are coming to Canada and establishing themselves at least on a regional basis.
A growing number of Chinese are migrating into Canada and this is especially true in British Columbia where more than 10% of the total population is Chinese. Similar immigrations are taking place from the former Soviet Union as well as other countries.
Since much of the economic growth in the world is happening in the so-called BRIC nations – Brazil, Russia, India and China – an emphasis on learning one of these as a second language could prove increasingly valuable in the future. This is especially true since Canada is a primary raw materials supplier to most of these countries.
An increasing number of career fields require being bilingual
Because of all of the developments listed above, an increasing number of employers are specifically looking for candidates who can speak a second language consistent with countries they do business with. Having a minor in one of those languages could be the qualification that not only gets you hired, but also does so at a higher pay level.
The ability to do a job is important in itself, but being able to do it in a foreign language is still a fairly rare quality in job seekers. If you’re the person who has both the job qualifications and the second language, you’ll have raised your market value substantially.
It’s not necessarily true that you need to be completely fluid in a language based on your minor area of study, but that could represent the foundation to get you to higher levels. After graduation you can build on your second language skills by taking additional courses or by finding a way to immerse yourself into places and circumstances where speaking that language is common.
Foreign travel is becoming more common
One excellent way to do that is through foreign travel. If your understanding of the language is only very basic, one of the best ways to become fluid is by spending time in a country where the language is spoken.
There is a big difference between learning a language in an academic setting, and learning in a real-world environment where it is actually spoken. By spending some time in a foreign country you can learn how to speak that language on a conversational level. That will of course be easier to do if you understand the basics of the language as a result of university study. The minor will start it, and the real life experience will perfect it.
In addition, even if it doesn’t have a career benefit, there is more foreign travel than ever before. Vacations to foreign countries are now almost as common as domestic vacations, even in middle-class households. The world is changing and becoming more international, and as it does the value of being bilingual will continue to increase.
Be ready to hit the ground running after graduation
Even with a minor area of study in a foreign language you probably won’t be an expert in speaking it upon graduation. But the same is true of your major area of study. If your major is accounting for example, you will only understand the fundamentals of accounting upon graduation. The finer points will be learned when you’re actually out in the workforce employing those skills
The same will be true of your second language minor. You will understand the fundamentals, but it will only be when you put the language into practice that you’ll become fluid at. The important thing however is to have a second language in place before you go looking for a job. Just the fact that you have basic understanding of the language will be a significant advantage over the competition.
This will be especially true in some of the less common languages, such as Russian or Korean. That may not open up a lot of employment doors, but it will give you a tremendous advantage in the relatively small (but usually higher paying) number of positions in a given field where those languages will be necessary.
If you’ve been thinking about adding a minor to your curriculum give serious consideration to making that minor a foreign language.