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The Lifelong Benefits of Sticking with a World Language

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Jennifer Simons

Written by Jennifer Simonson September 28th, 2021

My interest in the college application process stems from my own experience navigating the college process mostly by myself, albeit with supportive but hands-off parents. I was fascinated by trying to understand how colleges know how many students to accept and why. My first job in admissions at Barnard College allowed me to supervise joint programs with the Jewish Theological Seminary and the Manhattan School of Music, while also running the tour guide programs and traveling throughout the American Midwest. In my subsequent role as Associate Director of Admissions at Connecticut College, I ran the Transfer and Return to College Program for non-traditional students. It was at Connecticut College where I got my first taste of international recruitment. Subsequently, I served as the Director of International Recruitment for ten years at Tufts University, where my focus was Asia. One of the highlights of that time was leading a three-week recruitment tour for 30 admissions officers across India. One of the aspects I loved about admissions, specifically international admissions, where there is a great deal of joint and team travel, is that you learn so much about other colleges and universities, and you realize that colleges are not competitors per se but rather institutions in search of the right student, just as students are searching for the right college. I moved from Tufts to take on the Director of Recruitment position at Northeastern University, an institution I admired from across the Charles River for a long while. And in the midst of all of this, I served as a college counselor at the Ramaz School in Manhattan for a few years, and that is why I am adamant about students fostering a positive relationship with their school counselor as they navigate this process.
Learn More About Jennifer
by Jennifer Simons, former admissions officer at Tufts University If you knew me in high school, you would agree that I am the least obvious person to be writing about the benefits of taking a world language. I received my first and only school demerit in Madame Boucai’s French class in ninth grade, and from that point, I counted the seconds until I could be relieved, two years later, of my graduation obligation to a world language. In case you have not noticed, college admissions has become more competitive since 1988 and if you are looking towards a highly selective school, it is preferred that you take four years of your core academic courses, including world language. But, at the time, when admissions rates were more forgiving, I happily skipped AP Francais and marched right into the hallowed halls of my dream college. There was a slight problem. My dream college demanded that I take a foreign language “to proficiency.” Additionally, to my shock and consternation, a quick glance at the college catalog revealed that my prospective English major (English! A place where I thought I could be safe from participe passe), encouraged proficiency in not one but two world languages. Even apres three years of high school French, I wasn’t proficient. In an attempt to be my best self, I talked with my dean and advisor and we agreed that I could start back at beginner’s French to give myself a good foundation. Fast forward ten years and I am travelling internationally for my admissions job. I stand in a train station in Switzerland, late for a visit, grateful that I am in a place legendary for precision and grateful that I have an understanding of the language. Although my job mostly takes me to Asia, I find in airports and public arenas that a common language is French. I hear it in an elevator in Hong Kong where a group is there for a trade show. When I speak to these surprised visitors in their native tongue, I feel the most wonderful spark of connection. I speak to my African students in French and I learn that French is the language of the UN. While working at a college, I discover that med schools are more likely to admit students who know a foreign language, and that a better indication of future coders is not math expertise but language expertise. There are lots of articles about how knowing a world language makes you smarter, and I direct you to a simple Google search of “How learning a foreign language changes your brain,” after you finish reading this. There is no doubt that learning a language that is foreign to you will make you smarter. I argue that knowing another language makes you better. That trying to speak, that understanding a culture other than your own, makes you not only more employable, but a better person, more interesting, more connected to humanity. Can you say that about calculus? (Undoubtedly many of my colleagues could and frequently do, but I will leave that for their rebuttal blog). So, slog through. There is no excuse. You have Duolingo available on your phone and the delightful little green owl sending you reminders to practice. You can watch “Chip and Potato” on Netflix en Español. Heck, you can go to most American cities and simply listen to the languages that aren’t your own. If you’re like me, passively gazing out the window when I should have been asking, “Et bien, qu’est-ce que ca signifie exactement,” stop wondering, “When will I ever use this?” You will and you will be better for it.

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