Computer Scientists Should Learn a Foreign Language Other than C++

eifelThe notion of belonging to a particular country isn’t as meaningful as it once was, at least in terms of industry and commerce. We live in a global economic community. One-third of American companies do business overseas. One in every six university graduates is expected to work overseas at some point in his or her life. People who know a language other than their native one are paid on average eight percent more than their monolingual counterparts. These statistics help quantify the significant benefits of studying foreign languages, particularly as businesses continue to expand into other markets. These figures are not surprising. Since only twenty-five percent of the world’s people speak English, reaching these populations requires leaning how to communicate with the rest of the world. Those who want to make a worldwide impact are going to have to be able to do this, and that means learning another tongue.

For these reasons, I asked the Director of the Foreign Languages program at Lewis, Dr. Serafima Gettys, to speak to our new computer science students enrolled in CS 200: Introduction to Computer Science. I asked her to address these classes specifically because most of the students are freshmen or sophomores and have plenty of time to plan a minor in a foreign language. I was pleasantly surprised to learn how easy it is to earn a minor in a foreign language at Lewis and just how many such minors are offered. For a small and still young program, it certainly offers a lot of options.

Dr. Gettys highlighted several telling statistics in explaining how Americans can no longer afford to be one of the few wealthy countries whose citizens know only one language. Her message emphasized the practical benefits of studying language, and that seemed to resonate with the students. Our students tend to be rather pragmatic in their approach to education. Computer Science leads directly to a number of important and well-paying careers. Therefore, they usually focus rather intently on acquiring job-related skills and knowledge. The picture Dr. Gettys painted hit home for the students because she was able to speak to the students’ future roles in industry and how knowing another language could empower them to apply their programming, database, security, database, robotics, networking, simulation, and mathematical modeling skills working with international teams to build tools that could be used all over the world.

Clearly, Lewis University has a wonderful and unique foreign language program. Moreover, it fits well with Lewis’ current marketing pitch – practical, focused, and relevant. The program’s classes emphasize conversation and communication, eschewing memorization and perfect grammar, emphasizing instead the skills that students most need when they interact professionally overseas. Lewis offers courses in a variety of foreign languages, going well beyond the ones usually taught in high school. So-called strategic languages like Chinese, Japanese, Russian, Arabic, and Portuguese will help young tech experts like our students make inroads internationally as they develop software and security solutions used well beyond our borders. I’m for nothing if not expanding opportunities for our students. Lewis’ foreign language options do that perfectly.

The ability to speak other languages may be most important to those computer scientists who will pursue cyber security as a career. The threats to the global cyber infrastructure are profound. Countries will gradually see that they have a shared a stake in ensuring that our information systems remain secure against attack. There will have to be increased cooperation among nations as countries realize they can not only hack others but be hacked themselves. Once they recognize the reality of reciprocity – and there is growing evidence that the message is starting to sink in – they will work together to counteract cyber threats, much as countries did during the Cold War to address the nuclear threat. Having the ability to communicate with each other in ways we all can understand will mean the difference between continued strife and growing cooperation.

It is exciting and rewarding for me to know that my students will play instrumental roles in ensuring the security of the worldwide community. The programs offered by Dr. Gettys and her faculty can prepare them to do just that. I encourage all academic departments, particularly those for whom the role of a foreign language may not be as clear, to invite Dr. Gettys to come speak to your new majors.

 

Ray Klump

About Ray Klump

Professor and chair of Mathematics and Computer Science Director, Master of Science in Information Security Lewis University http://online.lewisu.edu/ms-information-security.asp, http://online.lewisu.edu/resource/engineering-technology/articles.asp, http://cs.lewisu.edu. You can find him on Google+.

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