Learning German -- or any foreign language -- is different from the educational experience in other academic disciplines. It's a rigorous and exciting plunge into a new culture, for which you always need to know what you learned yesterday in order to advance today. The goals of foreign language learning are to develop the ability to think in the language and to interact with others who speak it. So even at the start of your first course, the German program emphasizes mastering all your language skills -- speaking, listening, reading, writing -- within the context of practical communication. For most people a communicative base can be established with two years of college language learning.
Through upper division coursework, students' language skills are expanded as they systematically learn to read and discuss literary works as well as texts from the cultural tradition and on current affairs. They learn to understand more complicated conversations and lectures as well as German language films and media presentations. And meanwhile they also hone their writing skills by writing fairly complex essays, debating, describing, and explaining ideas.
A period of study abroad in a German-speaking country will accelerate this process of developing full spoken and written fluency. Nothing matches the excitement and adventure of traveling and studying abroad, of making the first breakthrough in uninhibited communication, of finding yourself suddenly able to say exactly what's on your mind in complex language, of thinking and acting full time in German, of forming life-long friendships.
Learning a foreign language is like stepping through a looking-glass into another world that can never really be seen by anybody who doesn't speak that language. The structural and idiomatic patterns of a foreign language provide you with a greatly expanded ability to think, communicate, relate and analyze. It is just as important that the new cultural awareness provided by German or any other foreign language breaks down the barriers between people that are often sustained by general unawareness or by governments (including our own). Living abroad renders the classical "us vs. them" syndrome meaningless: you will probably discover that you belong to and are part of people of all countries. Even if you learn a single foreign language you will share this experience if you learn it well.