Is there a growing necessity for graduating students to be multilingual?


Photos by Hannah Potes and Jacob Byk.

Courtney Kerrigan

Allies and enemies alike have said Americans seem to live under a veil of ignorance.

This may root back to our monolingual background; most Americans are brought up to know English and English alone.

A 2010 article in the New York Times reported that thousands of U.S. public schools stopped offering foreign language courses over the past ten years.

But in Japan, students are required to take six years of English before high school graduation, according to

Yet America’s school systems continue to not push students to learn other languages. Aside from the occasional required three or four credits in high school, foreign language classes are normally optional, not required.

This carries over into college, where students are often only required to take a language if they failed to meet their language criteria in high school.

And so, many graduating students enter into their respective fields with English as their primary and sole language.

Valerie Yumamut, junior marketing major, is working toward a French minor. While her hometown of Congo, Africa, uses French as its native language, she’s hoping the minor will help in finding a job.

“When I was applying for internships last summer, all of the employers were very interested in the fact that I speak French,” she said. “It’s just good to know another language. It benefits when you communicate with other people and also to get a job.”

If the world’s population totaled 1,000 people, 564 would be Asian, 210 European, 86 African, 80 South American and only 60 would be North American, including the United States, Canada and Mexico, said Lawrence Marks, associate professor of marketing and entrepreneurship, who cited “The Business Journal.”

America is not the sole powerhouse of the world, as so many believe, and once economically dormant countries are rising up in the business world.

And so the question looms as to whether college graduating students need to branch away from their monolingual ways and start thinking about their careers as a global prospect.

Sara Rathbun, international admission specialist and Master’s student, lived in Italy for almost two years and is now fluent in the native language. While her field is language specific, she said she believes students should start considering becoming, at the least, bilingual.

“As the world is becoming more global, more international, it’s becoming more of a need, just in our own country,” she said. “It’s becoming increasingly important to know other languages, such as Spanish.”

Especially in the business world and for business students, it’s advantageous to know a foreign language in order to communicate with customers, competitors and employers, Marks said.

But while Marks supports multilingualism in American students, he doesn’t necessarily believe that it’s a requirement when graduating.

“I have the general sense that it would be a good idea, all things equal, but lots of people are getting jobs without it,” he said. “While a company may be doing global business within the corporation, you may not.”

Knowledge of a foreign language may not be a necessity yet, but it adds that extra competition when job searching.

“In a lot of jobs I look at on job postings,” Rathbun said, “it’ll say, ‘Knowledge of another language preferred,’ so it’s becoming more desirable for corporations and companies that you know another language.”

Ediz Kaykayoglu, academic program coordinator for the Office of Global Education, believes multilingualism reflects more about a person than just his or her languages.

“It’s an advantage if you want to do international work because employers look for those skills,” he said. “Even if they’re not going to use that, that shows the employer that that person can go a little bit further and learn new things because when you learn a new language, you learn about the culture.”

Some jobs do require bi-, tri- or multilingualism, but, generally, students enter those fields knowingly. These may include jobs as a translator, jobs in the government, or any jobs that require overseas work.

Students also have to consider the location of their potential job. States like Florida and California highly encourage knowing a second language, particularly Spanish, when searching for employment. The University of Florida News reported those who know Spanish and English are less likely to be impoverished.

What many people don’t realize, though, is that companies just around Northeast Ohio are working to internationalize and work with other countries, Kaykayoglu added. TEACH grants of up to $4,000 are available for students who commit to teaching a “high-need field” at an elementary school, secondary school, or educational service agency, according to Federal Student Aid. The first “high-need field” listed? Bilingual education.

So students don’t necessarily have to leave the state in order to work globally.

Marks said there hasn’t been any negative feedback from employers or students that the lack of multilingualism is inhibiting students from getting jobs after graduating. But as Kaykayoglu said, knowledge of another language is further proof that an applicant is willing to learn new things.

Contact Courtney Kerrigan at [email protected].