Rethink foreign language requirement for College of Arts and Sciences

By Luke Lattanzi | Staff Writer

As it currently stands, the College of Arts and Sciences requires at least three semesters of a foreign language in order to graduate in most majors.

The vast majority of majors and minors within the College of Arts and Sciences, however, are not related to a foreign language in any way.

It is certainly true learning a foreign language can be extremely beneficial for those that are able to attain fluency, and language majors within the College of Arts and Sciences will continue to attain fluency in their languages regardless of any requirement due to the nature of their studies.

A mere three or four semesters of a language course is not enough time to attain proficiency or fluency in any language. At the very least, the language requirement for the College of Arts and Sciences should be lowered to two semesters, in order to be consistent with the other colleges that require a foreign language.

This would at least ensure that all students, regardless of their major, have the option for whether or not they would like to further pursue their study of a foreign language after being exposed to the experience.

A common defense of three or four semester language requirements in a liberal arts curriculum seems to be that these requirements will go on to prepare college students for their careers, or that the U.S. needs a larger body of multilingual citizens in order to compete in a world economy.

Such an argument was put forward in an article published by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, saying that “America is also in dire need of multilingual citizens in order to maintain its competitive edge in an increasingly global economy.”

What is left out of this argument, however, is that the U.S. and the U.K., both English-speaking countries, have historically catalyzed a great deal of that globalization to begin with. This helps to explain why English is still the largest spoken language, and therefore still the most critical, when it comes to conducting business in international markets.

This is not to say that learning a second language is automatically unimportant, but understanding the English language’s prominence in our increasingly globalized world can certainly help to bring things into perspective.

But again, even after all this being said, we are still confronted with the fact that the vast majority of American students are nowhere near fluent in a second language after a language requirement in an undergraduate setting. Why?

In many language classes, American students are often taught how a language works grammatically before actually learning how to say the words.

This is counterintuitive to how people actually learn languages. When you were little, did you learn how to write English, or speak it first? Chances are, you learned how to say individual words and figured out the accompanying grammar afterwards through gradual correction and repetition.

Of course, every professor is different, but if the university is adamant about students becoming proficient in learning a foreign language, then it might be worth exploring different ways to teach languages in general.