In response to a proposal by the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts Student Government, the LSA faculty is considering a change to the language requirement that would offer students a two-by-two option – two semesters of two different languages, instead of fourth semester proficiency in one. Currently, LSA students must demonstrate fourth-semester proficiency in foreign language to fulfill the college’s language requirement and graduate. Aside from being a general disservice to students, the proposed change ignores the more pressing problems currently confronting the language requirement.
With globalization blurring once-defined cultural boundaries, language proficiency is becoming an increasingly important asset for college graduates. By slackening the language requirement, the LSA faculty would be ignoring the importance language proficiency holds for an entry-level employee. Students in most other developed countries are pushed toward fluency in at least two languages, a standard that Americans and the University should emulate. The current requirement provides a relatively solid foundation of language and culture within a broader liberal arts education, offering graduating students valuable tools and an expansive worldview. The two-by-two option with its emphasis on exposure over proficiency would simply spread students thin.
None of this is to say the current requirement doesn’t have its problems. Completing four semesters of a foreign language is difficult and can be time consuming, both in and outside of the classroom. Language classes, most of which meet four or five times per week, offer taxing and inflexible schedules that deter many students who may have otherwise indulged out of interest. It is critical for the LSA faculty to make foreign language classes more palatable for the average student while at once preserving the requirement’s ultimate end of proficiency. By de-emphasizing aptitude and offering no positive reforms to the requirement’s scheduling structure, the proposed change does neither.
The faculty should instead consider adding courses with more practical value for students. Currently available in the Residential College, hybrid courses combine two semesters of language into one and would provide students with a quicker and often more meaningful way of fulfilling the requirement. Conversation courses and minicourses aimed at refining language skills and preparing students for trips abroad would also be significant additions to the University’s course load. These courses would likely have a broad appeal for students who have placed out of the requirement but still want to hone their skills, many of whom remain deterred by the time-intensive structure of current upper-level courses.
While a graduating student’s ability to ask for directions in multiple languages may be useful, it can only take him so far. When it comes to learning a foreign language, depth will always prove more valuable than breadth. Lifting the burden of upper-level language courses off students may be popular among students, but it won’t be of any assistance to them once they’re in the job market.