The Five Best Tips for Foreign Language Majors

Are you studying or planning to study languages in college?

Then read on, because I have some great wisdom from people who have “walked the walk” before you.

I reached out to five of my favorite bloggers–each of whom has majored in foreign language, cultural, and/or area studies at the university level–and asked them to pass on what they learned to up and coming students.

They graciously agreed, and each person has passed along their most important tips for up and coming students.

Check out what they have to say and definitely check out their sites as well.

University of Wroclaw By Stako [CC 3.0], Image Source

University of Wroclaw
By Stako [CC 3.0], Image Source

Lindsay Dow, from Lindsay Does Languages

“You will have to work…but it will be worth it.”

“I think the one thing that foreign language majors should know to be successful is to understand and appreciate from the start that the degree alone will not make you fluent in the language. It’s not a fast-track, a free pass, or a guarantee of anything. You will have to work (hard at times…ok, most of the time…ok, all the time) but it will be worth it. Oh, and it’s not just about how good your language skills may be–this isn’t just a language course: it’s a university course. For too long, I felt frustrated when my results were lower than I’d hoped in assignments along the way. Since accepting that being awesome at the language isn’t enough to impress the tutors, I’ve found myself much more at peace with the idea of having to jump through the hoops to tick the academic boxes too.”

Alex Gentry, Social Media Admin at Wikitongues

“The skill of cross-cultural communication is just as important and crucial as knowing foreign languages.”

“Although I was not a foreign language major (I majored in anthropology and international relations for my bachelor’s), I’ve had nearly nine years of language learning experience with various languages. From my experience with working with international students, foreign language majors should not only make an effort to learn foreign languages, but they need to make sure they make as many foreign friends, clients, and colleagues as possible and make every opportunity possible to learn about their cultures, learn their languages. The skill of cross-cultural communication is just as important and crucial as knowing foreign languages.”

Agnieszka Karch, from 5-Minute Language

“…[successful students] destroyed the cultural barrier…”

“To me, a marker of success as a foreign language major is the ability to be brave enough to immerse yourself in ‘real language’. It involves making a conscious effort to connect with people from the country whose language you’re studying.

Some students are lucky enough to do an international student exchange, but if that’s not something you can do where you are, you can connect with people in other ways. There will be visiting speakers at your college and international students on exchange programmes. And you can of course use the internet!

Among my fellow students, the ones that could truly understand the literary texts we were studying, French politics and philosophy were the ones who made this effort. They could really ‘feel’ French – they destroyed the cultural barrier that sometimes separates students from the culture they’re studying just because they don’t fully understand its people.”

Natalie K., from The Fluent Historian

“…the classes weren’t enough.”

“The single most important thing for foreign languages majors to do is to practice the language outside of class. Don’t get me wrong—the classes I took were very helpful and I enjoyed them. But if that had been all I did, I wouldn’t have graduated fluent in Russian because the classes weren’t enough. You have to take the time to listen to the radio on your own, read news articles and books, etc.”

Kevin Morehouse, from Language Hero

“Successful language majors are proactive, and have a strong passion for all aspects of their target language and culture.”

“If you’re looking to learn a language quickly, easily, and/or inexpensively, becoming a language major is probably not for you. Majoring in a language is a serious, multi-year commitment that requires in-depth study of many aspects of your target culture, including its history, literature, and politics. The amount of reading and writing that is required in such programs is extensive, and you may find that the assigned reading material is often in a language that is very different from the modern standard you intended to learn (think Shakespeare for English). Additionally, it must be said that possession of a language degree is not necessarily a guarantee of advanced fluency in that language.

Becoming a language major bears the most fruit for those who are looking for professional work in their target language, including translation, interpretation, teaching, and academia. Successful language majors are proactive, and have a strong passion for all aspects of their target language and culture. Indeed, the proactive students are the ones who graduate with the highest degree of fluency, as they have used their years in academia to complement their language study, rather than being their sole means of contact with the language.”


  • Natalie

    Great advice from some great people! 😉 (Because I’m totally not biased or anything… LOL.)

  • Roman Shinkarenko

    I have nothing useful to say, but that doesn’t need to put me off from commenting. (Because attention trumps usefulness, IMWO).

  • Agnieszka Karch

    It’s really interesting what Lindsay said about university language courses not being language courses per se. It’s something that I also experienced when studying for my BA and then my MA. You need to understand the texts you’re studying if you’re learning about the literature, history or politics of the country/countries whose language you’re studying. However, you also need a broader understanding of the context of that country/those countries, the different theories that are universal (rather than country-specific) and you need to think about how the discipline you’re studying connects to other disciplines, e.g. philosophy, literary theory, anthropology, etc. It’s much more challenging than just learning a language!

    • Lindsay Dow

      I’m glad I’m not alone in experiencing this, Agnieszka! Just this morning I was learning about the equipment used for navigation in the period when the Americas were discovered…as part of my language degree! 😉