In the realm of higher education, knowing a second language is key to acquiring top jobs. To grasp its importance, educators at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater and the University of Tulsa share their insight.

In the past, students at OSU often picked French and German for their second language. Now, Spanish is the first choice. 

“It is our most popular minor,” says Erik Ekman, the department head and an associate professor of Spanish. “In any given semester, there are 250 to 300 students who minor in Spanish.” 

Healthcare is just one business sector that pairs well with a Spanish minor.

Additionally, OSU’s study abroad program was robust until COVID – which Ekman calls “a disaster for the program.”

In 2021, the program dropped drastically and classes were held online. Now, since many have returned to the classroom, the international program is recovering well.

Looking forward, a new language program at the university this year is Korean. 

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“We will be looking to add this as a minor,” says Ekman. There is also a growing request for American Sign Language (ASL). So, this past spring semester, OSU had nine classes dedicated to ASL.

At TU, languages rank high in popularity with Spanish, French, German, Russian and Chinese offerings. ASL, which has its own specific career path, is second only to Spanish. 

“Language is really a great combination with another skill,” says Victor Udwin, Ph.D., the director of the School of Language and Literature and an associate professor of German and comparative literature at TU. Many students graduate with a degree in engineering, for example, and have a minor in language. 

“Best of all, they have their choice of graduate schools or jobs,” he says.

Using a target language in a real world application has proved successful. And, Udwin says, business and government leaders understand the importance of language.  

“There are really interesting jobs all over the world and here in the U.S.,” he says. The study abroad program spurs entrepreneurship. One TU alumni, who worked in Germany at a brewery, has returned to Tulsa and opened his own.

New at TU is a five-year program, with two majors, that incorporates study abroad with an internship component. 

“A double major is now emphasized,” says Udwin. Engineering, science and business each pair well with a language major.

ASL AND ITS Growing Popularity 

In 1817, Thomas Gallaudet founded what is now the American School for the Deaf, located in Hartford, Conn., where he created American Sign Language. Now, between 250,000-500,000 people are fluent in ASL.

“There is a strong growth in ASL,” says Ekman. ASL is used in public-facing careers including healthcare, schools and human resources.

“Graduates with a target language are super independent, confident and self-sufficient,” says Udwin.