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What language should an engineer learn?

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Logpile98
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 Message 1 of 22
16 June 2013 at 5:18am | IP Logged 
I am a high school graduate planning to attend Rice University in the fall, majoring in mechanical engineering.
My dream is to land a job as an automotive engineer, designing sports cars, like the Corvette or Viper. I
started thinking about the path to take, and I realized that it might be helpful to learn a new language, such as
German, Italian, or Japanese because these places are all so important in the automotive industry. It also
doesn't hurt that my school has a very flexible curriculum to encourage its students to branch out into areas
they normally wouldn't study, and they have a pretty good study abroad program. This means it would be
very feasible for me to learn a new language and live overseas for a semester. I'm still not certain what
language I'm going to learn, but I'm leaning towards Italian, because I love Italy, I always have, and its
companies are a little more important in the American automotive market (Fiat now owns the controlling
interest in Chrysler, plus there's some really cool cars there, like Ferrari, Lamborghini, and Maserati).
However, German manufacturers like VW, Mercedes, Audi, Porsche, and BMW are a big deal too. And then
of course, there's the Japanese companies, like Nissan, Infiniti, Toyota, and Lexus.

Although I love all three places, and I could study abroad at any of them, let me list some concerns I have.
Japanese is probably the hardest one to learn, and I've never learned a foreign language to fluency before. I
think German would be pretty hard too, but not as hard as Japanes because English is a Germanic language
and I wouldn't have to learn an entirely new system of writing. Italian is probably the easiest one for me to
learn, because I've taken some Spanish classes, and Italian is pretty similar to Spanish. Another thing to
consider is, although there's programs in all three countries, they all require me to enroll in a foreign
university for that semester, which is fine, but I'm not sure if they have in English for my major. The Italian
program is at the University of Bologna, and they have classes in my major and in English, I'm not sure if they
have both. The German program has two universities to choose from: Jacobs University, (which has general
engineering classes in English, but not mechanical engineering classes) and the University of Leipzig, which
has classes in my major, but not in English. And Japan has a program in English and for my major at Nagoya
University (I think that's how it's spelled), but I'm put off by how much harder the language is to learn.

Now my question boils down to this: which program do y'all think I should choose, and would it be reasonable
for me to learn one of these three languages well enough to take engineering classes in that language by the
fall semester of my junior year? Sorry for the super long post, but thanks in advance for your time and your
help!
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NickJS
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 Message 2 of 22
16 June 2013 at 5:59am | IP Logged 
I personally would research more into the cultures of the languages first, there may
even be one or two things you don't like but don't let them put you off. Then sit down
and have a listen to the languages individually, watch some tv shows, listen to some
much and the such.

The reason I say that is because if you learn the language strictly based on career
advancement or the difficulty of the language you will end up hating it.

If you do decide to go down the career advancement route though it could be worth
choosing the country that produces your favorite vehicles (it sounds like Italy for
you!) that way your able to base your studies all around the vehicles and your interest
will help your memorization.

I know next to no Italian but I've heard its easy, well easy in comparison to a
language such as Japanese! And Italy is definitely a beautiful country too!
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aodhanc
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 Message 3 of 22
16 June 2013 at 12:38pm | IP Logged 
For engineering, German would certainly be the most logical and useful choice over
Italian or Japanese.
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tarvos
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 Message 4 of 22
16 June 2013 at 1:06pm | IP Logged 
It depends, really. If you want to work at Ferrari then I suggest Italian, if you want
to work for Toyota Japanese might be better, and for Audi or Mercedes; German. In this
sort of case, as an engineer, the best language to learn is the one that corresponds
to the things you want to be engineering.


For example, I studied chemical engineering and now am finishing a master's thesis
concerning communication about nuclear energy. In the nuclear sphere, there are certain
major players in that field which are important, for example France, Japan, China, the
US, and Russia. Should I want to end up working in a position that requires me to deal
with other nuclear energy companies, languages such as French and Russian will be very
important. But it all depends on where you end up. German is an important language in
science in general.

In general; all three of these will serve you well. German is probably overall the one
that will take you the least time for the biggest reward (maybe Italian in your case)
and the most useful in general, but these are three big languages and you can never go
wrong knowing any of them to a high level; furthermore, it's not a question of
either/or; should you learn German now, and end up needing Italian, you can always
learn Italian later on.

For engineers in general; learn the language of the place you want to be working in.
Maybe, for example, if you work in offshore engineering, it might be fun to learn
Tagalog or Malay or even Chinese because of your co-workers! Especially those engineers
that go abroad for big projects would do well to learn to understand the local culture,
because engineering isn't only about the maths; it's also about marketing, about
customer specifications, and understanding what your client wants you to build and
construct, and that takes some understanding of the local culture as well as the
mechanics of how to build a bridge, a production plant for hydrochloric acid, or a
genetic engineering laboratory.

In other words, the best language for an engineer to learn is the one that you are
interested in and that is the most useful to the thing you want to be working with! And
in automotive, there's a fair few options, and you can go wrong with none of them.


Edited by tarvos on 16 June 2013 at 1:12pm

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montmorency
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 Message 5 of 22
16 June 2013 at 2:29pm | IP Logged 
Realistically, the choice would seem to be between Italian and German, since Japanese
might take up so much effort and time, it might distract from your main ambition of
becoming an automotive engineer. (Unless it turns out you develop a passion for
Japanese, which a lot of people seem to).

In addition to any formal course and self-study you do, it would be good to spend as
long as possible in a total immersion setting, ideally in one of the countries.
Presumably this would have to be the summer vacation, and if I understand correctly,
you have about 2 years before you start your junior year, so that gives 2 summer
vacations before your Sophomore, then another just before your Junior year.

You would have to take an examination in Germany before you were allowed to study a
university course (I am not sure of the timing of those, but they must be designed to
fit in with the actual university semesters/terms), and presumably the same is true in
Italy. In any case, it's going to be in your own best interest to be as proficient as
possible, if your major is going to be taught in the target language.

Perhaps you need to try some "taster" language courses before you decide, to make sure
you won't really hate one or more of the languages, and can't face studying it or
studying in it, or being more positive, find one you really really like studying (and
find you have some proficiency in).

It seems like you have a preference, so maybe the thing to do is to start with that,
and find how much you like it studying it fairly intensively, and take it from there.


For the "total immersion in your vacations", you might look at the various summer
language courses offered by quite a few of the German universities (and probably the
same is true in Italy), which will give you some feel for university life over there,
and how things are organised. I think they usually arrange accommodation such that it's
not too costly, even if a bit spartan (but that's all part of the experience).



Edited by montmorency on 16 June 2013 at 7:29pm

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Serpent
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 Message 6 of 22
16 June 2013 at 3:50pm | IP Logged 
montmorency wrote:
(Unless it turns out you develop a passion for Japanese, which a lot of people seem to).
I think usually people either have it from the beginning or they don't. It's Korean that is known for sudden addictions :D
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Logpile98
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 Message 7 of 22
18 June 2013 at 3:16am | IP Logged 
Thank you all for your input. It seems that German might be a better choice, but I can't go wrong with Italian.
Now I just have a couple more questions. Would it be feasible for me to learn German (or Italian) well enough
to be able to take an engineering class entirely in that language by the fall semester of my junior year? Also,
how do I go about studying it? Should I just wait until I begin college and take classes, or should I try to start
now, and if so, what method should I use to learn it? Thanks again!
1 person has voted this message useful



tarvos
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 Message 8 of 22
18 June 2013 at 10:10am | IP Logged 
If you learn Japanese (or anything else), you cannot go wrong with that either!
Japanese may take a bit more time though but you'll reap the rewards; many less
anglophones manage to reach a good level of Japanese, so you'll definitely be more
employable if you pick that one! Don't not pick Japanese because German or Italian is
"easier". Pick the one you like best! If that is Japanese, pick that one. Too many
people miss out on their passion because they went for an "easy" language instead of a
language they actually wanted to learn.

Start now! The more you do now, the less you will have to do later. As for the level; I
don't know what your high school terms mean, but being able to take classes is quite a
high level. A year should be enough though if you concentrate on it full-time.




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