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Finding Time to Fit Foreign Language into My Busy College Schedule

By Betty Berdan | Published: August 20, 2019

For those of us not majoring in a language in college, it can be hard to find the time and space in our busy schedules for a foreign language class. In high school I didn’t have to make time in my schedule for Spanish and Mandarin; it was blocked out for me as a graduation requirement. Yet, at Georgetown, I have found it difficult to fit foreign language into my business and liberal arts curriculum.

The first semester of my freshman year, I had a packed schedule of six classes, including a medieval Spanish literature class. I realized that this kind of schedule overloading wouldn’t be sustainable. Squeezing in Spanish—a non-core and non-major class—was hard enough, without even considering the other aspects of university life. Although I’m still figuring out a way to take a Spanish class every year, I made the difficult decision to drop Mandarin altogether. As a critical language, it is taught six hours every week—more than a third of my course load.

A photo of Dovelas ejemplares, La vida es sueno, and Lazarillo de Tormes

However, despite all of the above challenges, I have found many ways to practice Spanish outside the classroom, and I have noticed others around me doing the same. I continue to keep up the skills that I’ve worked hard to achieve because language matters to me. I know that employers value language skills (especially Spanish), and it will be important to note this ability on my résumé. I want to be able to communicate with twice as many people in my personal and professional lives. Methods I’ve used and watched others successfully use include:

  • Listening to music in another language
  • Watching Netflix in another language
  • Changing the subtitles of an American film to a foreign language
  • Reading fiction books in another language
  • Joining a language club, or living in a foreign language house or dorm floor
  • Engaging with non-English-speaking communities
  • Making friends with international roommates
  • Communicating in another language with others whenever possible
  • Blocking out a semester or summer for an immersive study abroad program

These are all good strategies, but other opportunities also present themselves—and it’s up to us to take them as they come in the moment. For one, when I started volunteering with the IRS to file tax returns with local residents, I didn’t even realize that I’d use Spanish to speak with many of the clientele who aren’t English proficient. In a similar fashion, I’m a barista at a coffee shop where one of my coworkers alternates among English, Spanish and French with the customers she knows are fluent in each. Day-to-day interactions like these remind us of how multilingual our country is—a trait I strive to achieve as well.

Regardless of how difficult it can be to fit a foreign language into an academic semester, there are so many options to study outside of class. Not being a language major shouldn’t prevent anyone from being able to continue his or her studies. There are still many ways to continue practicing a foreign language during a semester or year off. Regardless of what we decide to do, as long as we’re creative, we don’t only need formal classes to keep advancing our language skills or striving to become multilingual.

About the Author

Betty Berdan with a camel

Betty Berdan is a sophomore at Georgetown University where she plans to major in Finance and Marketing, as well as minor in Spanish. She spent two summers at El Lago del Bosque.

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