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Pros and Cons of Studying in your Native Language

Opting to study abroad is just the first stop on your international adventure. You’ll have plenty of other decisions to make along the way. One factor worth thoroughly evaluating prior to deciding on a program? Whether or not to study in your native language. Here’s a closer look at the pros and cons of choosing an international program which offers coursework in your mother tongue.

Sep 6, 2023
  • Student Tips
Pros and Cons of Studying in your Native Language

Opting to study abroad is just the first stop on your international adventure. You’ll have plenty of other decisions to make along the way. One factor worth thoroughly evaluating prior to deciding on a program? Whether or not to study in your native language. Here’s a closer look at the pros and cons of choosing an international program which offers coursework in your mother tongue.

Studying in Your Native Language: The Pros

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1. You’ll avoid additional complications.

International studies are uniquely rewarding, but there are challenges involved, too. There’s always a learning curve involved with moving to a different country, acclimating to a new school, and studying alongside classmates from all over the world. Taking courses in your native language is one way to minimize the adjustment period and make it easier to hit the ground running. Rather than worrying about whether or not you’re taking in everything, you can focus more directly on the subject matter at hand.

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2. You may learn better.

Research from UNESCO indicates that elementary school children learn best in their native tongues. It follows that the same might apply at higher levels of study, as well.

This is not to say that learning a second language isn’t important -- it is, and vitally so due to the increasingly interconnected world in which we live -- but it does suggest that you might be able to learn and communicate better if you pursue international studies in your mother tongue.

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3. Your native language shapes your identity.

Studying abroad has the immense power to broaden your mind and enhance your perspectives of the world around you. At the same time, you are still a product of your country and culture of origin, and the language you speak is a huge part of that. Nelson Mandela once said, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” In other words, learning in your native language may provide a more holistic learning experience because it acknowledges your roots.

Studying in Your Native Language: The Cons

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1. Finding a job abroad relies on knowing the native language.

If you’re planning on working abroad, fluency in the local language is critical to landing a job. One of the best ways to hone your language skills? Through immersion in language coursework during your international studies. Not only will having studied in a foreign language strengthen your ability to read, write and speak, but it also indicates your willingness to step outside your comfort zone.

But job candidates who speak multiple languages aren’t just sought-after in countries where those languages are spoken. Today’s global society makes multilingual employees a valuable commodity.

Think you can just coast on your ability to speak English, meanwhile? Think again. According to one Education and Skills Survey from the Confederation of British Industry’s (CBI), a full 70 percent of businesses are not satisfied with the linguistic skills of applicants, while 14 percent of UK grads have lost out on job opportunities due to their limited language skills, according to research from Telefonica Digital. The 10 foreign languages most beneficial to your career, according to Kiplinger? Mandarin Chinese, German, Portuguese, Japanese, Spanish, Korean, French, Arabic, Hindi, and Russian.

Group of students sitting outdoors studying while on a break from university. They are sitting in the city centre.

2. You’ll miss out on the true immersion experience.

While your time abroad will expose you to many facets of different places and cultures, you won’t have a truly immersive experience if you don’t speak the language. You’re also more likely to connect with diverse students in non-native language classes -- meaning more opportunities to broaden your social network, instead of surrounding yourself with students who share your background. Think of it this way: While you were brainstorming reasons to study abroad, meeting new people was probably on your list. So why limit these opportunities by studying in your native tongue?

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3. Your personal growth will be limited.

We already covered how multilingualism can help you on the job market, but that’s far from the only growth opportunity. Students who embrace studying in a language that’s not their mother tongue also position themselves to grow in many different ways beyond the workforce. From building fulfilling relationships to eschewing preconceived notions, becoming fluent in a second language has transformative potential.

Additionally, research shows that bilingual and multilingual people enjoy better brain health than their single language-speaking counterparts. According to the website Medical Daily, “people who learned a second language have a holistic grasp of its social and emotional contexts, while those who learn in adulthood show less of an emotional bias and a more rational approach.”

With upsides and downsides to both sides of the argument, there’s no clear-cut right or wrong way to go when it comes to the matter of studying in your native language. Rather, identifying the right path largely depends on your individual situation, wants, needs and goals. The best part? Whichever you choose, you’ll be partaking in an experience with the potential to vastly enrich your life across academic, professional and personal measures.

Joanna Hughes

Author

Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.