Viewpoint: Five-day language classes are essential for first-years

I’m pleased that the topic of language study appeared on the opinions page of the Lariat on Feb. 7, and that the editorial there, “Five-day language classes hurt, not help,” advocated the study of another language for all Baylor students.

What concerned me was the misunderstanding about the value of a five-day-per-week meeting schedule for first-year language classes. In support of this assertion, the editorial stated that students would learn more if they had class fewer days per week. Is this true?

Time spent in class is a function of the learning outcomes that the course is designed to achieve. According to the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, achieving intermediate proficiency in a “Group I” language (such as Spanish) for a student with above-average aptitude for language learning requires at least 240 classroom contact hours.

That would be the equivalent of four full semesters of 50-minute courses meeting 5 days per week. For “Group II” languages (such as Arabic or Chinese), an estimated 480 contact hours are needed.

Given that we language teachers actually have less time with first-year language students than we would like, we strive to maximize class time to help students practice with the target language. Proficiency in a second language requires such practice.

Baylor students have recently drawn upon their language skills and cultural knowledge to compete successfully for prestigious Fulbright grants. It is my sincere hope that more Baylor students will apply for Fulbrights and other such awards. Many students have been able to build upon their existing skills in language and awareness of cultures through immersion experiences abroad in programs like Baylor in China, Baylor in Denia, Baylor in Germany, Baylor in Madrid, and Baylor in Paris, or the exchange program with Voronezh State University in Russia.

Five high-achieving Baylor language students were recently awarded an Allison Family Foundation Scholarship for Study Abroad in the amount of $12,200 each.

To be eligible for this scholarship, students needed to demonstrate intermediate proficiency in the language and cultural knowledge of the country where they will study (France, Russia or Spain).

Thanks to growing interest in languages at Baylor, modern foreign languages department has recently added minors in Arabic, Chinese, and Italian, as well as a major in Arabic and Middle East Studies.

Learning another language is worthwhile but not easy; first-year language learners need to spend as much time in class as possible in order to gain the requisite proficiency.

The mission of Baylor University is to prepare students for “worldwide leadership and service.” Daily first-year language classes are needed for students to develop the depth of knowledge and skills necessary to function and flourish in a global environment.

Heidi Bostic holds a Ph.D. in French from Purdue University. She has been a member of the modern foreign languages department at Baylor for four years and currently serves as the department chair.