Why Study Languages

Why should I study a language? How will it help me?

Learning a language does not just involve memorising long lists of vocabulary, studying tricky grammatical structures and getting your tongue around strange sounds – though it is about all these things too! It involves getting immersed in another culture, a new way of looking at the world associated with a new way of speaking.

Speaking another language helps you move outside your own world. It enables you to travel like a local, rather than as just a tourist.

Speaking another language is great for your social life—better friendships can develop when you are able to speak to someone in their own language and understand the world through their eyes. And it helps you build a sense of awareness—of yourself, and of others.

Speaking another language increases your job opportunities and gives you an advantage over monolingual English-speakers in business, international relations, politics and much more.

It also helps you become better at problem-solving, more perceptive, better able to deal with abstract concepts, better at multi-tasking, more empathetic and more creative. Language learning is great for your brain and if you keep speaking and learning languages the benefits carry on throughout your life: multilingualism even helps to stave off dementia in later life.

There are a number of great resources on the internet which highlight the benefits of language learning. Here’s a great place to start—a searchable database of ‘700 Reasons to Study Languages’.

I am studying a language at school but I’m not sure if I should continue

We strongly encourage you to continue with your language studies at school—and then onto university. Studying a language gives you skills which can help you do well in other subjects. It improves your understanding of how English works, and enables you to hone problem-solving and analytical skills which are naturally applied to other subjects you are studying. The longer you stick at language learning, the greater the rewards. Language study at university also opens up useful possibilities, such as overseas study, as well as providing a useful companion to other subjects you might wish to study. To find out whether the language you are studying at school is offered at university-level, go to our What languages can I study? page.

Why should I study a language at university?

Language study at university is an exciting option for students. If you are already studying a language (or languages) at school, or if you already have some knowledge of a language (or languages), you can continue to advance your skills in that same language(s) at university, depending on the university in question. You might also consider studying a new language. It’s never been easier to do either—you can include language study in many degrees offered at Australian universities, or you might consider adding a Diploma of Languages to your undergraduate degree. Check the relevant university website for more information about your options. Many of the questions you might have can be found on our FAQ page.

What is a ‘language bonus’?

Many universities give bonus points to students who have studied a language to Year 12 level—these bonus points raise your Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR), which might just give you the edge you need in getting into your course of choice! The following universities have bonus schemes (note that some are administered by the relevant state admissions body, while others are administered by the individual university):

Did you know that some employers give a ‘language bonus’ too? In many areas of the Australian public service, speakers of other languages receive a financial bonus simply for having that skill!

What sort of career opportunities are there for language students?

There are language-specific careers, such as interpreting and translating, language teaching and travel and tourism. But there are many other areas where a language gives you an edge: diplomacy, national security and strategy, trade, defence, journalism, development and many other fields. As language learning enhances your problem-solving and communication skills, learning a language also prepares you well for a wide range of jobs.

What languages are the most popular?

The mostly widely offered languages in Australian universities are Chinese, French, German, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese and Spanish. But you might also consider learning a language that is not so widely offered—there are lots of less commonly taught languages you might find interesting! See What languages can I study? for some ideas.

What languages are the easiest to learn?

All languages present their own challenges but advantages as well.

  • Reading and writing: Languages that use the Latin alphabet (just as English does) have the advantage of being easier to learn to read and write for English speakers. Most European languages use the same alphabet as English—as do a number of Asian languages such as Indonesian and Vietnamese. And it doesn’t take much time for an English speaker to learn how to read and write the Russian Cyrillic or the Greek alphabet—which are all historically related to the Latin alphabet in any case and share many similarities. Some languages use a different script again, but which are similar to an alphabet, and so learning this is simply a matter of learning the different symbols and how to combine them (e.g. Arabic, Thai, Korean). Others, like Chinese, do require mastery of many symbols prior to being able to read and write in the language.

  • Vocabulary: Languages that are related to English have a much higher proportion of shared vocabulary with English, which can save a lot of time in memorizing new words. This is the case for German (very closely related), as well as French, Italian and Spanish.

  • Grammar: This is one aspect where some Asian languages may be easier than some European languages (e.g. Japanese has only one past tense, while European languages often have many more such tenses; many Asian languages don't have gender, while many European languages do).

  • Pronunciation: Learning any language will involve learning new sounds, and combining the sounds you may know in different ways. For example, in English the sound that ends a word like sing never occurs at the beginning of a word (no English word begins with ng-), whereas in many Indigenous Australian languages, this sound does occur at the beginning of a word (as in Ngunnawal, the original inhabitants of the area where the ACT is now).

  • Sense of satisfaction: you will gain a great sense of satisfaction from mastering something which doesn’t come so easily—so don’t shy away from a language you might think is difficult; it might appear harder at first but can still be mastered!

How much language can I learn in a classroom?

Classroom learning these days is much more than heads down in books: technology, for instance, means you can communicate with native speakers across the world in real time, any time. And as Australian universities attract students from all over the world, many universities have language clubs, where native speakers get together with learners, talk and participate in cultural events.

Of course, a great way to learn a language is to go and live in the places where people speak those languages every day. Many universities offer opportunities for exchange, meaning that you get credit towards your degree while studying at a university overseas or within the community, and taking subjects in the language you are studying. Often classes in these universities are offered solely in the target language, giving you an immersion experience.

What is linguistics?

Knowing how languages are constructed, and how people use their languages can make the task of learning a language easier. This is the study of linguistics. Linguistics can studied at the following universities in Australia: