Should I Take a Second Language as an Elective?

By: Neya Abdi | @neyaabdi

Most discussions about electives revolve around two main questions:

  1. Is it easy?
  2. Will it make me more attractive to employers?

To be honest, the best approach to electives is taking courses you are interested in. You are more likely to show up, do the work, and find practical applications for the course material when you care about it. But I digress.

Conversations around electives routinely involve a discussion on the value of the elective. It’s a course you don’t have to take, so if you’re going to take it it should either boost up your CGPA or help you win jobs post-graduation.

Learning another language satisfies two of the most worthy considerations we’ve mentioned: it’s both lucrative and it’s a course that can be enjoyable. While learning a second (or third or fourth) language requires work, it can also be rewarding and impressive giving students more incentive to pursue it.

There are Thousands of Languages in the World – Which One Should I Learn First?

There are more than 6,500 spoken languages in the world, but roughly 2000 of those languages have no more than 1000 speakers. Of the remaining languages, only a few are offered at the university level.

French is one of the most popular languages for native English speakers to learn. Before English took over the global scene, French was the superstar. Today, it is still one of the official languages of a number of prominent international institutions (the United Nations being one of them). It also holds the cute title as the “language of love”.

For Canadians, learning French carries special importance. As one of our two official languages there is much to be gained from learning French in terms of employability. Those interested in a career in public service likely already know that the federal government is the largest employer in the country. And many other industries are increasingly interested in landing candidates who are English/French bilingual.

Look to Your Desired Industry and Your Interests When Choosing a Language To Learn

Of course, there may be some readers who are uninterested in the french language or who have no intentions of finding work in a field that requires French/English bilingualism. In that case, what are the best languages to learn?

There are several factors you should take into consideration in this case. Interested in pursuing a career in international affairs, global security, or energy? Arabic may be the language you want to pick up. There are numerous non-commercial reasons to learn Arabic, including its beautiful script and rich history. From an economic perspective it can also be a very lucrative language to learn considering our contemporary geopolitical climate.

But sometimes it is not just about the commercial benefits of a language. For instance, there has been growing conversation about the benefits of learning Mandarin. Some parents are rushing to put their children into schools that teach Mandarin to make them more competitive in a world that is witnessing China’s growth as a superpower. Other observers caution that parents (and students) shouldn’t be so hasty.

While there is some disagreement, the consensus is that Mandarin is a notoriously difficult language for native English speakers to learn to speak (and even more difficult to learn how to write). In an article for the Harvard Crimson, Jorge A. Araya talks about how the cost of learning Mandarin will likely lead to a global situation where native Mandarin speakers are more likely to pick up English. While the actual difficulty of learning Mandarin could be argued back and forth (difficult for whom, exactly?) sinologist David Moser confirms how tough the language is in his hilarious, slightly bitter article “Why Chinese is so Damn Hard” that tackles the linguistic and cultural gap between East and West. In the case of Mandarin, students must have a distinct interest in learning the language because purely monetary motivation will only get them so far.

Languages Are Fun and Rewarding to Learn, Whatever the Motivation

Then again if ease is what you are looking for, consider learning how to habla espanol. For English speakers, it is considered an extremely easy language to learn. The shared cognates and the relatively simple grammatical rules make the language accessible. And Spanish just sounds sexy, even when you can barely speak it, so the motivation to become fluent will be extra strong.

Whichever language you choose to take, selecting any language as an elective is a great choice to make. Learning how to communicate with a million (or in the case of Mandarin, a billion) more people than you could with only your mother tongue is a beautiful thing. And a nice way to supplement a well-rounded, global education.

Laugh while learning about the country’s politics in My Internship in Canada

Photo credit: Eye on Canada

Odds are that if a Torontonian tells you they love politics and you try to engage them in a discussion on Canadian politics they’ll reply that they were talking about international affairs.

Funny, eh? That national and local politics is considered boring even though they’re the most relevant to our everyday lives. It’s not that nothing happens here, but with the reality TV style politics south of the border it can be difficult to appreciate the subtle dramas and idiosyncrasies of our truth North strong and free.

That said, Canada is experiencing a surge in starpower with the global recognition of our performers, a freshly branded Toronto, and our new Prime Minister who has managed to send the international media into a frenzy over his looks. But on a more humble level, we have uniquely Canadian issues that are not only important and challenging, but interesting too. The intersection of local, national, and yes, even world politics was cleverly portrayed by Canadian writer and director Philippe Falardeau in his satirical film, My Internship in Canada (Guibord s’en va-t-en guerre).

Screened at the TIFF Bell Lightbox this past week, My Internship in Canada was one of several films featured in Canada’s Top Ten Film Festival. The festival celebrates some of the best movies to come out of the country, with people all over the city coming out to the theatre on King and John to appreciate Canadian filmmaking. The movie centres on Steve Guibord (Patrick Huard) a hockey player turned Member of Parliament in Quebec with a very large riding and a chronic fear of flying. He hires an intern, a Haitian national named Souverain Pascal (Irdens Exantus), with a stunningly comprehensive knowledge of Canadian politics and history, a penchant for quoting political philosophers, and a fierce belief in the power of democratic institutions. As Souverain says during his interview, Canadian politics is all about geography and this is emphasized in the movie as Guibord drives around his riding to fulfil his obligations to constituents.

The driving force of the film is an upcoming vote in Parliament regarding whether or not Canada should go to war. Guibord, an Independent MP, unexpectedly finds himself with the tie-breaking vote. In between his wife’s insistence that he vote yes and his pacifist daughter’s reminders that he would effectively be sending her generation to war, he takes the advice of Souverain to hold consultative meetings with his constituents in order to reflect their voice in his vote. This is further complicated by land disputes between the Algonquin population protesting the logging on their land and the truckers and miners who are concerned about the availability of jobs.

It’s a story that manages to fit a lot about Canadian politics into less than two hours. Everything from Canadian geography to uproar over jobs to First Nations land rights to the international francophone community is touched upon in this film. Overall, the film leaves you eager to brush up on your French and wishing you’d paid a little more attention in high school Civics.

Canada’s Top Ten Film Festival highlights Canadian films and was held at the TIFF Bell Lightbox at King Street and John Street. It was held from January 8 – 17.

Life imitates art in Gemma Bovery

“I’d rather you do drugs than talk crap.”

This is a line from a father to his son very early in Gemma Bovery. There’s nothing dysfunctional about their relationship – in fact, the family appears entirely happy. It’s an indication of the tone this movie will take: wry and unapologetic.

Our protagonist, Martin Joubert (Fabrice Luchini), delivers that hilarious line. After working in publishing in Paris, Martin moves to Normandy to pursue a better life by taking over his father’s bakery. His love for literature is taken to an extreme when an English couple by the name of Bovery moves in next door. The wife’s name is Gemma Bovery (Gemma Arterton), an eerie similarity to Gustave Flaubert’s tragic heroine Emma Bovary from his 1856 novel Madame Bovary.

This instance of life imitating art proves to be too much for poor Martin who becomes smitten with Gemma and begins stage-directing her life from afar through mumbled asides to his dog. He becomes convinced that she is bored and in need of guidance and when Gemma begins an affair, terrified that she is headed towards the same heartbreak Madame Bovary faced. As a result, he begins the kind of ill-advised meddling that everyone who’s ever watched a movie knows is bound to end with trouble.

Martin is an endearing narrator. He has a big heart as evidenced by his genuine care for the other characters’ lives, but he veers dangerously close to “crazy old man” territory. Gemma Arterton gives a great performance as Mrs. Bovery, but is mostly presented to us the way Martin sees her which is as a bored housewife hurtling towards a tragic end and in need of saving. But as she says to Martin near the end of the film, “You don’t know me. I’m not that woman. I’m not Madame Bovary…I’m free. I’m capable of being happy”. And it’s true. We don’t really know her. Our perception of her is coloured by what Martin thinks and by extension, whatever knowledge we have of Flaubert’s Bovary. Some might say Martin takes “mansplaining” so far he essentially tells this poor woman how her life will play out based on his minimal acquaintance with her and his love of an old book.

One of the more interesting, albeit minor, characters is Martin’s wife, Valérie (Isabelle Candelier). Martin’s obsession with Gemma might have left us with a tired storyline about a jealous, bitter wife, but Valérie is self-confident and mostly embarrassed by his antics, particularly his attempts to speak with Gemma in English. Then again, it’s also clear that he has enough respect for his wife that even if the opportunity presented itself his infatuation with Gemma would never go anywhere beyond fantasy.

Gemma Bovery was screened at the Spadina Theatre this past Thursday night and the free movie event was hosted by Alliance Française de Toronto. About a minute walk from Spadina Station, Alliance Française is a place for Torontonians to participate in French learning classes and programs, not to mention watch free movies every Thursday. Admission is free and the event is first come, first serve. For those who attended last night in an effort to improve their French, Gemma Bovery was a fitting movie. A joint British-French production, the predominantly French script was punctuated by English dialogue in scenes where the English-speaking characters talked to each other. And just like Gemma who jots down new vocabulary in a notebook she carries everywhere, audience members like myself were absorbing new words and expressions all in an effort to improve our French. Life imitating art, indeed.