FOGEL: Learn a language

The University should makes its foreign language requirement more substantial

The University’s foreign language department added another resource to its repertoire this semester with the addition of the Mango language learning software. While the program features immersion courses in 60 foreign languages, this still does not make up for the fact that countless University students are dropping foreign languages before they start their third, second or even first year of classes.

By revising the foreign language requirements, namely through the creation of a universal foreign language requirement, the University would be able to foster a more globally educated student body.

Latin and Greek foreign language coordinator Greg Hays says the current requirement asks for students to attain a certain level of competency. Hays said, “I think [it] is not so much to attain fluency (two years aren’t enough for that), but to allow students to step outside the confines of their own language, at least briefly — to realize that English isn’t more ‘natural’ or ‘normal’ than other languages, and that its idiosyncrasies affect how we experience the world, in ways we may not even be aware of.”

Although SAT IIs, AP exams and placement tests are all excellent indicators of student language levels, they do not always prove language proficiency. Furthermore, they mean nothing if students place out of their foreign language requirements and then never take a language course again. These students won’t experience the feeling of stepping outside their comfort zone and challenging their own preconceptions that Professor Hays so aptly describes.

A universal foreign language requirement would require Echols scholars and all other students who have either placed out of their language requirement or placed into a higher level to take at least four semesters of foreign language studies. Incoming students with prior language knowledge would thus have two options: continue that language in advanced classes or start a new language.

The new requirement could boost the number of students in underrated but hugely significant departments such as Arabic, Hebrew, Hindi, Chinese or Russian, whose combined enrollment among the five languages is less than half of the Spanish enrollment this semester. Chinese, Hindi and Arabic are three out of the five most widely spoken languages in the world, and learning these new languages would help students broaden their worldviews, encounter new cultures and gain new perspectives.

If incoming students choose to continue their language education from high school, foreign language departments with the opportunity to introduce more enticing 3000-level and above courses to accommodate higher level students. For example, there could be a “Business Arabic” course or a “Survey of Greek Literature” course for students who continue in those departments. Students would be given the opportunity to achieve near-fluency in their language of study, and once they reach this level, they will be less likely to lose their proficiency in the future.

Under the current system students can “place out” of their language requirements, either because they are native speakers or because they took the language in high school. And after four or five years of not taking a foreign language, non-native speaking students will graduate with little to no knowledge of the second language they once knew, and native speakers would be deprived of the opportunity to learn a new language. These flaws in the system have a great impact when students decide to study abroad. Although many students study abroad in a wide variety of countries, they are much more likely to study abroad in the country that speaks the foreign language they are taking. As it is, the overwhelming majority of students who study abroad at the University are second or third years, suggesting that if all students take a foreign language through their second year, they will be best prepared to travel abroad and speak that language. Additionally, if more students study languages, the number of students that study abroad will likely increase.

Some students may not be enthusiastic about the foreign language requirement; they may be relieved to put the it behind them. Nevertheless, I think that with over 30 percent of University students studying abroad before they graduate, there are more students that appreciate the foreign languages departments than those that do not.

The money to offer more classes and accommodate more students would have to come from somewhere. This is a tough issue, one that may not be able to be solved simply through grant funding. One immediate solution is to take resources away from other departments that aren’t receiving enough attention. Clearly this is not a perfect solution, but foreign languages hold such a huge significance in today’s global society.

Foreign languages are crucial for a more informed education. Students that study languages for four semesters will achieve a higher academic level, with potential understanding of a new language or mastery of an old one. German foreign language coordinator Sybil Scholz says foreign languages have an added effect of opening up job opportunities: “In an increasingly globalized world, studying foreign languages will give students insights about and access to the cultures of nations other than the US.”

Jared Fogel is an Opinion Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at

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