A student came to me and asked how important it is to study a critical language. Here’s a brief background on the student: She is a senior studying international relations with a minor in communication. She has a 3.6 GPA. She would like to work for the Foreign Service. She hopes to be a Rangel or Pickering Fellow. Currently, she is pretty decent in French…meaning she can have intermediate conversations. She would like to move to Belgium or France after graduation.
The catch is that she has no desire to study a critical language. She says that she would only study one in order to make her application more competitive.
A critical language in the U.S. context is a foreign language important to the country’s national security and economic prosperity. There are a ton of less commonly studied languages you can choose. Below I have provided a list from the Boren Awards. The U.S. government wants more speakers to speak the languages from the list below.
If you are an undergraduate or graduate student, you may be eligible for a Boren scholarship or fellowship.
For more information about how to apply for scholarship or fellowship, I’ve written articles and created videos on the following topics:
…the Critical Language Scholarship (CLS). This scholarship is for American students who are pursuing an undergraduate or graduate degree. With this scholarship, you can intensively study a critical language. These languages include:
If you are passionate about French, you should strive to be the best non-native French speaker out there. Like…you should be so good that people hire you for your French. There are many countries you can work where French is spoken. This includes, but not limited to Haiti, Benin, and Cameroon.
If you are not passionate about something, no matter how good it seems…no matter how much the world is focusing on a particular region, you’re not going to do well. Don’t do something just because it looks good on your resume.
At the same time, if you want to be in this field, adaptability is key. Employers look for people who can quickly learn and absorb new material. If you’re thinking about becoming a Foreign Service Officer, there’s a good chance you’ll learn another language.
Keep your options open. Learning a “critical language” makes you competitive and a more interesting person.
My Experience As A Rangel Fellow
Why Moving To Another Country May Not Result In Language Learning
What To Do If You Visit/Move To A Country And Don’t Speak The Language
Why Teaching English Is A Stepping Stone For A Career In International Affairs