Proficiency in one or more foreign languages is a valuable asset in today's global economy. This is reflected in the growing list of college majors requiring more than cursory exposure to a foreign language. Beyond the traditional majors -- language teacher, linguist -- requiring language proficiency in the past, today's list includes area studies, international business, socio-cultural programs and numerous others. Increasingly, such majors are cross-departmental, reflecting a growing awareness that some traditional majors now require greater global awareness.

Traditional Majors Requiring Foreign Language

For many years, foreign languages were not required in many college majors. Students pursuing degrees in linguistics, foreign literature or language or foreign language education were required to demonstrate proficiency in one or more languages. Some liberal arts colleges required a limited number of foreign language classes for a general Bachelor of Arts Degree, but there was no such requirement for most majors in science or technical fields. Under increased budget constraints, many schools have cut even the minimal requirements.

Impact of Globalization

As businesses and other professions adapt to the increasingly globalized economy, culturally aware employees with foreign language proficiency become highly prized. At the same time, college and university students have realized that proficiency in one or more languages makes them more competitive and offers them more opportunities than their peers without language capabilities. Some schools have responded by increasing the number and types of degree programs containing a substantial foreign language requirement.

Not Just for Foreign Language Teachers Anymore

Majors requiring foreign languages are now found across the spectrum of degree programs, including business, medicine, economics and social work. Some schools have designed inter-disciplinary degree programs enabling students to major in area studies, international economics, cross-cultural social work and international business. This approach is epitomized in the Cultures and Languages Across the Curriculum program at the University of Iowa, where the approach is to teach international content across the curriculum -- including teaching some science, computer and business classes in foreign languages -- with the goal of meeting the nation's critical need for globally competent graduates.

Still a Dearth of Programs Requiring Foreign Languages

Unfortunately, the critical need for improved language skills among U.S. college graduates is often thwarted by the present-day economic realities faced by many colleges. As budgets at many colleges and universities tighten, one of the first areas likely to be cut is foreign language programs. This threatens our country's ability to compete in the increasingly globalized economy; government organizations also have stressed the need for more U.S. graduates with strong language capabilities to maintain the nation's security.

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