Cal students see value in learning foreign language

BERKELEY, Calif. (KTVU) - It's not uncommon for university students to study a foreign language. In fact at some schools it's required.

But Cal is going beyond the typical second languages of Spanish and French.

Right now U.C. Berkeley teaches 59 different languages on campus, which is more than most major American universities.

It's estimated that three out of four Americans don't speak a second language while more than half of Europeans do.

"Americans have the advantage or disadvantage of, that the entire world learns English and wants to practice," says Jereon DeWulf. He's the director of the Institute of European Studies at Cal.

He tells KTVU that in his native Belgium students are taught the country's three official languages at a young age.

"By the time you're 12 years old you're already fluent in three languages; French, German, and Dutch, and on top of that - English so it's actually more than three, it's four."

Cal is now adding Icelandic, a language that's spoken by a population less than the City of Oakland's.

Iceland has become a popular tourist destination and is located in an area of growing international attention near trans-Atlantic trade routes and valuable energy reserves.

Having Cal students learn the language can improve understanding between the nations.

"If they want to be able to work as diplomats using their Icelandic language skills I do see tremendous advantages in having those small languages being offered on the Berkeley campus," said DeWulf.

Cal Professor Karin Sander of Berkeley's Scandinavian Department sees other advantages.

"It's not just a matter of how many people speak a language but what is the impact? What do you get from actually being able to get underneath the surface of a culture, get underneath the political systems?," she told KTVU.

Just about every student KTVU talked to on the Cal campus is already learning at least one other language.

Dmitrie Zabelin is brushing up on the Russian he learned as a child.

"I think it will have a really positive effect. Being bilingual I think is becoming really important progressively because of various effects of globalization."

Alexander Fredojala told KTVU learning one language can help in understanding others.

"When you know Swedish you also know a bit of Norwegian and Danish because they are quite similar so it opens up the world and I've become more of a cosmopolitan."

Lydia Joh told KTVU she's studying Korean, but her understanding of Japanese helped her get an important internship.

"Knowing Japanese helped me get into a program overseas to go to Japan and study some of the research they do over there."

Cal is expanding its Kurdish and Turkish language programs too. It’s all an attempt to broaden students horizons no matter what their geographical interest.