On a cold, damp morning in Germany, I found myself in a tense meeting in the manufacturing facility of a major corporation. We were discussing the development of a product that my company required for its operations. The business partner paused the meeting for a sidebar conversation to discuss our ask. Instead of retreating to another room, they simply switched from English to German. Clearly, they didn't want us to know what they were saying. Now, I'm what many would consider a polyglot. I speak ten languages, and learning them comes naturally to me. My German is by no means perfect, but it was sufficient to decipher what they were saying. So when they started to disparage our proposal, I interjected, "That is not true!"
Perhaps I was a bit too impulsive. They were stunned. They glanced at each other, then at me, and one of them said, "Oh right, you speak German."
"Not bad for an American, right?" I jested, and suddenly the tension melted into laughter. The meeting was a success, and the product in question is now available to customers in North America and Europe from a thriving Fortune 500 company.
Now, I'm not suggesting that you take your high-school Spanish or French class exclusively to eavesdrop on colleagues or business partners (although that is fun). Nor am I suggesting that you take on the task of learning 10 languages if that isn't on your list of 20 things to accomplish before 20. However, whether it be Spanish, Italian, Mandarin, or French, I do suggest you treat your high school foreign language class as a practical (and even vocational) skill that you'll be able to use for life. Here are 5 reasons why:
1. COLLEGE. Mastery of a foreign language will help your college application stand out. Beyond having good grades, it shows that you're well-rounded, enjoy learning and immersing yourself in new cultures, and have a global mindset. Colleges take these aspects of your extracurricular persona quite seriously as they aspire to watch you graduate as a global and tolerant citizen of the world.
2. BUSINESS. Having a foreign language on your resume will distinguish you. As scientific research, corporations, and organizations become more global, foreign languages are key to forging successful business relationships. I've used my languages to build meaningful partnerships with colleagues around the world. Plus, they view me with greater respect for making the effort to communicate with them in their native tongue, no matter how much better their English may be.