Learning a New Language in University vs. Secondary

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In our multicultural world, speaking only one language can hold you back on several levels. Those who can speak more than one language enjoy increased job opportunities, for example, while also expanding their worldview. Additionally, there are plenty of cognitive benefits of learning a new language, from helping to improve your memory to providing a creativity boost.

And those benefits can happen for language students of all ages. While the consensus is that it’s easier, at least on a cognitive level, to begin learning a new language at a young age, it’s never too late to dive in. A university environment can be equally, if not more, enriching experience than learning a second language in a primary or secondary school setting.

For starters, your adult vocabulary is likely richer than ever, providing greater opportunity to grasp a second language. Language and culture immersion opportunities are usually much more ubiquitous in post-secondary settings as well. Let’s explore the nuances of learning a new language in university versus secondary school, and ways to access lessons no matter your age.

You Can Learn a New Language at Any Age

Whether you’re a high school student considering elective options or a 40-something looking to expand your horizons, the best time to start learning a new language is right now. That being said, however, if your goal is to ultimately be able to hold a conversation or become fluent, regular exposure to that language is vital. It’s easy to lose your grasp on a second language if you rarely utilize or hear it.

Even if you can’t fully immerse yourself in a language or culture, try to incorporate the language you’re learning into your daily life. For instance, you could listen to foreign language podcasts during your commute to campus, or join a culture club that meets regularly. Consistent exposure, in a variety of settings, is immensely beneficial when learning a new language.

It should be noted that university language courses provide more opportunities than high school classes in this regard. As far as content and grammar lessons are concerned, half a university term in a foreign language course is generally equivalent to a full year in secondary school. What’s more, as high school course loads tend to be hefty, it’s much easier for your new language lessons to get lost in the shuffle.

The University Education Experience

On the other hand, most university students have fewer courses to juggle, but they typically dive deeper than their secondary counterparts. In this way, pursuing a university degree can be a much more challenging endeavour than completing high school graduation requirements. Yet despite the numerous challenges that come along with higher education, it can be an immensely rewarding experience.

A university degree is your key to higher average earnings than those with only a secondary certificate, exciting internship opportunities, and a more expansive skillset. In terms of learning a new language, university classes will challenge you and help you learn at a more efficient pace. In university, you’re also likely to develop various soft skills that can take you far, such as project management and the ability to multitask.

And even if your degree is a completely unrelated field, don’t underestimate the value of foreign language classes. When applying for future jobs or internships, for example, being able to speak a second language helps set you apart from the competition. Additionally, bilingual job candidates are often seen as empathetic, compassionate, and capable.

Weighing the Costs and Benefits of Higher Education

The unfortunate reality for many students eager to learn a new language, however, is that a university education may be out of reach. For many people in the UK and around the world, the monetary costs associated with university and university courses can be prohibitive, to say nothing of pursuing a degree. English universities, for example, can charge home students upwards of £9,250 per annum for an undergraduate degree, and the fees are even higher for students from elsewhere.

Since earning a university degree is a costly endeavour, myriad students are forced to take out grants and loans, or apply for scholarships, to fund their education. Grants and scholarships are the preferred option, of course, as loans have to be repaid, and student loan debt can be substantial. But that’s no reason to shy away from learning a new language or finishing your degree.

In fact, various options exist for those individuals struggling to pay off student loans due to financial hardship. You may be able to negotiate the terms of your repayment plan or refinance your student loans to cash in on a lower interest rate. Whatever route you take to better manage your student loan debt, time is of the essence: If you wait to negotiate terms until your student loan is in default, you could damage your credit as well as your opportunity to bargain long into the future.

Just as individual financial situations vary considerably, so do options for student loan repayment. You can choose an income-based repayment plan, for example, which takes your earnings into account, or opt for a graduated option. In a graduated student loan repayment plan, your payments increase over time to account for income growth as you climb the corporate ladder.

Key Takeaways

Learning a new language in high school can be an enriching experience, but the lessons may not stick, especially if your focus is on everyday life, maintaining friendships, and keeping up with a heavy class load. As such, university may be the ideal venue for you to start learning a foreign language and immersing yourself in its culture. And while post-secondary language courses may come with a hefty price tag, you’re likely to see a profound return on investment, in the form of greater job opportunities, a higher salary, and more.

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