By Ekaterina Fedorova

It’s that spookiest time of the year, course enrollment! Choosing classes is never easy, not only is it important to consider personal factors such as how many units to take, in which professors’ classes to enroll, and which subjects you find particularly interesting, but, at least in a huge public university like Berkeley, you can’t just get into any classes you want. Especially as a freshman or sophomore with those late enrollment times. There is, however, one major exception and that is language classes.

Berkeley language classes (maybe only between STEM majors) are such underappreciated course options. Not only are they smaller in class size, more personable, and a great way to meet like-minded friends, but they are also (most often) not necessary to phase I. The first language class I ever took at Cal was German 1 in the fall semester of my Sophomore year. Honestly, I have no idea why. I knew nothing about Germany (or other German-speaking regions, in fact I didn’t know what countries other than Germany spoke German), had no plans to study there, and really just wanted a fun “interest class”. Much like my choices this semester, it was a bit of an impulsive decision. To my surprise, it very quickly became my favorite class of that semester and having just enrolled in German 4 for Spring 2020, I am so glad I randomly decided to take German 1 over a year ago. Do I really think German will directly help me in the future? I mean, probably not, but, hey, there’s nothing wrong with that.

Having come to Cal from a very small high school, I had no idea what it was like to be in such huge classes. As a third year Econ/Stat major, the smallest major-related class I’ve been in is over 60 people, and that’s well below the average. Meanwhile, by the time I was graduating high school, the smallest class I had ever been in was a grand total of 5 people. At the time, I didn’t realize what a privilege it was to have the option to be in such small classes. Or rather, I realized it, but didn’t quite fully appreciate it. Of course, this isn’t a new view point. This university has a 2,000 person CS class and frankly, that’s insane. Feeling overwhelmed by being anonymous in a lecture of hundreds is the unfortunate reality of being at a large public university, but it doesn’t have to always be like this! In the past, I’ve heard a lot of people say class sizes get better as you get into upper-division courses for your major. I’m sure this is the case for others but at least in Economics and Statistics that hasn’t exactly been my experience. And this is exactly where my love for the Berkeley language program comes in.

Full disclosure, I can only truly speak for the German and Russian heritage speakers programs, but generally I’ve found language classes to be an amazing break from the classic huge lecture hall experience. I don’t want any of these recommendations to be the reason someone overextends themselves and takes on a language when they really do not have the time, but if you are in the market for another class, I cannot highly enough recommend that you try learning a new language. Having the chance to learn in a smaller group setting and see the same people every day in my language classes is really the best part of my day. A semester ago, at the end of German 2, when I was Phase II enrolling in German 3, I spoke with my German instructor to make sure she was indeed teaching the class into which I was enrolling. Immediately, she said yes and that she was really excited to know that she would have me in her class again the following semester. That’s not a sentence I’ve heard since high school! I feel a bit sad at just how happy that simple statement made me because in an ideal world I could be in a lot more classes where professors can genuinely say these things, but regardless, to be in a small enough classroom setting that even without having to go to every single office hour it’s possible to still be known by the course instructor is really great.

And of course, as I assume I don’t need to say, learning a new language is worth it just for the general benefits. Knowing another language is never going to hurt your job prospects and is a great way to extend interests you may already have into a more international context. I don’t currently have plans to work in a type of job that specifically requires or even highly recommends any multilingualism (unless you count programming languages), but languages are fun… so why not? Sometimes I feel there is this huge pressure to monetize my time and my hobbies. Sure, being able to speak a language is definitely not ridiculously far from being monetizable, but nonetheless, I find myself thinking what if I took a different class in which I have no interest but is Econ or Stat related. In those moments I remind myself: Utility[German 3] > Utility[Stat 15X].

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