More languages, more opportunity, says ORR graduate

May 25, 2018

There's a great big world out there—and, as Dr. Bill Worden told current students on May 25, knowing a second language opens up opportunities at home and abroad.

Worden, a former Old Rochester Regional High School graduate (and a teammate of teacher Steve Carvalho, he added), is a professor of Spanish at the University of Alabama. But, he said, he didn't even start learning Spanish until the age of 22.

"It's a myth that you have to begin learning languages early," he said. "I've seen people learn languages successfully at any age."

Worden himself studied Ancient Greek (which is no longer offered) and Latin while he was at Old Rochester.

"I liked languages, I found them interesting," he said. "But when I went to college I majored in mathematics."

It took several more years, and a study abroad session in Italy, before Worden decided he really wanted to learn more languages. Since then, he said, he's lived in Mexico and studied all around the world.

Anybody can learn a language, he said. The most successful are those who are fascinated by the language, willing to practice, and stubborn.

"When I was studying abroad, I refused to stop speaking the native language," he said. "The best language learners make the most mistakes, because they're the people most actively speaking the language."

By the time he was done with his study-abroad session in Italy, Worden explained, he had moved up from being one of the more "mediocre" students, to being one of the best in the class—all because he stubbornly refused to revert back to English.

"So when your mother tells you how stubborn you are, you can tell her that will be useful one day," he joked.

Language learning, Worden explained, is useful in all sorts of life aspects.

Those planning to attend specialized graduate schools might do well to study the classic languages. Classics majors (alongside those who major in math!) have the highest success rates of any majors in law school, and also have a better success rate at getting into medical school than students who major solely in physics, biology, or chemistry.

The opportunity to explore the world, Worden explained, for those who can speak another language. An opportunity to spend several months in Paris came up at his first job, at a software company. The company was working on a new project with a French company—those who could speak French were immediately on the project.

"As you could imagine, everyone wanted to be on that project," Worden said. "Then the boss told us that to make sure our French was satisfactory, those of us who wanted to be on the project would speak to the client on the phone, in French, for ten minutes."

Not a single person from the office ended up assigned to that job, he said.

"There will always be opportunities for you to go somewhere else," he explained, "if you can speak that language."