Foreign language labs should be structured differently

By Julia Pearl | Reporter

Foreign language classes require students to attend one lab class each week in addition to regular lecture classes, but is the lab requirement the best way to boost students’ speaking and grammar skills, or should Baylor explore other options?

Whether a student sees their foreign language class as a requirement or an opportunity to be seized, they are motivated to be successful in their language course. I do not believe that a lab is the best way to supplement foreign language classes. There are a number of ways that Baylor ensures students success in other classes that might be more effective than the addition of a lab.

While the idea behind a lab is to allow more time for students to speak the language and learn the associated culture, many students do not treat lab classes this way. I have witnessed students sleeping through language labs over Zoom, driving instead of engaging in content or simply being unable to answer questions because their lecture class is behind the content being covered in the lab.

Although these issues happen, and students are responsible for their own education and effort, I believe the students who already excel at speaking the language are the only ones that benefit and participate the most in both lecture classes and labs.

Speaking a language you do not know in front of a class of many other students can create a lot of pressure, embarrassment and can be discouraging for students who are already struggling. These lab classes create the same environment as the lecture class, lacking accommodations for different learning styles. Now that they’re on Zoom, it’s even more difficult to replicate smaller group activities that may have put less pressure on struggling students.

Labs primarily use quizzes and attendance to create these grades. These quizzes sometimes consist of reading material wholly unrelated to class content, even in grammatical structure, vocabulary and cultural education. If the grade for labs contributes to the lecture grade, shouldn’t the content be related?

While some professors structure their lab more closely to class content and ensure that all students have covered the same lecture material, I believe it is up to the institution to find more agreement between lab and lecture classes. It would benefit students more if Baylor created a more cohesive and accessible experience for students.

Offering Supplemental Instruction sessions, encouraging students to meet and speak outside of class and connecting struggling students to upperclassman that excelled would benefit students more than a lab that, depending on the week, does little to contribute to lecture material.

If the language department offered small groups of Supplemental Instruction sessions, in place of or along with labs, it could help students close gaps in their knowledge with less pressure, and they could focus on more specific issues and questions.

Greater access to peer study groups could help students learn from one another and foster more involvement in their language classes. Access to upperclassman would be a valuable tool for students as well. Those who have been in the course may be able to explain concepts more clearly than a professor who may no longer see why a concept is challenging.

Learning a new language is an important and lasting skill that Baylor students are fortunate enough to be offered. However, more could be done to ensure that students have access to the different types of help and connections that they require to be successful.