Guten Tag! My name is Will Lehman and I am the Department Head of Modern Foreign Languages and the principal instructor of German at WCU. I came to beautiful Western North Carolina in the fall of 2008 after completing my PhD in German Studies at the University of Florida. Like many of the professors here, I am an avid learner of languages, and have taught college English, German, and Spanish. I can also speak some Dutch, although it's been a while and I'm admittedly a little rusty. Since I came to Western, I've also studied Cherokee as well as Chinese. Obviously, I'm really into languages, but you don't have to be a language freak to learn to speak one well. You just have to devote time and energy to the process. There's no easy way to learn a language, despite what some commercial products would like you to believe!
I strongly believe that college-aged students can not only gain fluency in second and third languages, but can also, with a lot of hard work, overcome their English accents. This is not to say that having an accent in a language means you haven't mastered it--just think of former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. No one would ever accuse him of having poor English skills, although his German accent is unmistakable. The reason I'm mentioning fluency and accents is because I want to dispel the myth that it is somehow impossible to learn a language after puberty. Clearly, the process is different for adults, and often more time is needed to get comfortable with the language, but it is definitely possible to attain a very high level of mastery of a language, even when you start learning it in college. And yes, living in a country where the target language is spoken, even if just for a year, is an enormous benefit as well, so if you can, find a way to get overseas! I've never once met a person who had spent a semester or year abroad who said that they wished they'd just stayed home instead. Never.
Learning languages (and the people and cultures to which they belong) can be one of the most rewarding experiences a person can have, which is why it saddens me to occasionally hear language students say that they are only trying to fill a requirement. To these people I say: the average American can expect to change career paths four or five times during her or his life. This means that most of us will benefit immeasurably from having the broadest possible exposure to knowledge during college, when learning is easiest. Besides this obvious reason there is another, less obvious but equally valid one, which I mention because it has been mentioned to me on lots of occasions: multilingual people are, in general, much more interesting to talk to than monolingual people, just as people who have lived in many different places often have more interesting things to talk about than people who've never ventured far from their birthplace. So what's the point? Learn languages and you'll likely be much more popular at parties and social gatherings, because you will be perceived as a more interesting person. I experienced this first hand when it counted the most: at a job interview. I was applying for a retail management position, so I tried to downplay the fact that I had a Master's degree in German but no real business experience. As it turns out, the hiring manager only wanted to talk about his previous trip to Germany, his half-hearted attempts to learn German over the years, and other such matters. In the end, I got the job, even though I'm sure there were better-qualified candidates. Granted, had I not been a quick learner, I wouldn't have done well at the company, but my step in the door had precious little to do with my business savvy or my undergraduate business degree.
So choose yourself a language and learn it like we all know you can! I promise you will not regret it!