DUA: Change the foreign language requirement

The University’s foreign language requirement as it stands now is overly burdensome for students

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Many of the University's language departments are housed within New Cabell Hall. 

Ariana Nazari | Cavalier Daily

The University’s general education curriculum is both long and diverse. Amongst the plethora of classes University students must complete, one that deserves particular scrutiny is the foreign language requirement. The foreign language requirement asks students to complete four semesters of a language of their choosing, prior to their seventh semester. As simple as it sounds, the requirement consists of typically four or five classes a week, with lengthy homework due nearly every day, in order to maximize exposure to the language. 

In my own experience, completing homework and memorizing vocabulary and grammar takes up more time than most of my other classes combined. This reality is unfortunate because, for many students, the foreign language requirement is just a box that is waiting to be checked. In fact, most students enter the University having already taken several years of a language to graduate from high school. Given this, I believe the foreign language requirement as it stands now is overly burdensome for students who have already had experience with a foreign language and does not adequately consider students’ experiences with these languages prior to them entering the University. 

One of the ways the University evaluates a student’s language abilities is through various placement tests. These tests supposedly place students into classes corresponding to their skill levels, however, there are some inherent problems with these exams. Only some of the more popular languages, French, Spanish, German, Latin and Italian, have placement tests that are online and can be completed at home. Other more obscure languages have tests that must be taken in person at the University. 

Unfortunately, there are some other fundamental issues with the placement exams and how they assess student’s previous experiences with a foreign language. For one, online placement tests make it possible for some students to cheat and access additional resources or, in some cases, have a fluent friend or family member take the test for them. This allows some students to unfairly forgo the foreign language requirement all-together, with seemingly no other way for the University to verify if the student is, in fact, fluent in the language. Transfer students — many of whom may have already completed a different foreign language requirement for their previous university —  may also be required to continue with a language they have not studied in some time or, if they score poorly enough on the placement test, start all over again. 

For transfer students with aspirations to enter the coveted McIntire School of Commerce, the foreign language requirement presents a near impenetrable obstacle. The business program requires all accepted students to have completed the language requirement, in its entirety, prior to entering McIntire. For transfer students who are required to take four semesters of a language, any hopes of entering the business school are nearly immediately dashed, with the only possibility being to enter the six-week summer intensive program. This program can theoretically assist students in meeting the language requirement in a timely fashion, but completing it heavily impedes summer internships, requires students to pay for additional summer housing and is difficult to enter in the first place due to the limited number of spots available per language. 

Other options to complete the foreign language requirement, like Advanced Placement tests and SAT II subject tests, prove to be just as flawed. Many languages, like Russian, Hindi and Persian, don’t have any sort of applicable AP or SAT subject tests, giving students with experience in these languages less opportunities to place out of the requirement. In addition, the departments vary in terms of what scores adequately fulfill certain course requirements, meaning some students come into the University at an immediate disadvantage simply because of the language they chose to study. 

I believe a school in the Commonwealth that has a much more logical foreign language system is Virginia Tech. At Virginia Tech, if a student has taken two to three years of a language in high school, they adequately meet the foreign language requirement, and no further action is required. It allows students who’ve been adequately exposed to a language the opportunity to avoid retreading old land and explore other offerings at the university, while still giving students with lesser experience adequate time with a unique culture and language. 

Despite the inherent issues with the way foreign languages are administered by the University, it would be a mistake not to acknowledge the benefits of studying a foreign language. It encourages students to have a more global mindset, instilling with them a feel for values and cultural nuances wholly unfamiliar to them. In a more interconnected world, it’s an invaluable perspective to have and to nurture. With that said, forcing students to spend thousands of dollars learning a language they have likely already spent time studying and may have no interest in exploring further is ridiculous. By mirroring the language policy of Virginia Tech, we would enable those personally invested in a language the opportunity to continue learning it, while allowing students with more experience in a language the ability to forgo the requirement all together. 

Shrey Dua is a Viewpoint Writer at The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at opinion@cavalierdaily.com. 

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