Have you ever sat in your foreign language class dumbfounded? Desperately trying to understand what your professor is saying as she speaks to you like you”ve spoken this language for years. Even if it”s your first day. Well let me assure you that you”re not alone. Maybe you”re like me. I can”t seem to grasp more than “Mi piace nuotare” which I think means “I like to swim” in Italian. But I can never be too sure. You see, as a sophomore in LSA, I”m struggling with my language requirement. The one that demands that I achieve fourth semester proficiency in the foreign language of my choice before I graduate. However, I grapple with this requirement daily as I attempt to teach my 19-year-old brain to learn the ins and outs of the Italian language from a professor speaking only in Italian. The language requirement is a thorn in my side. Why? Well
Some people pass out of their language during the orientation placement tests. These people are lucky. However, I would have to advise that there be a warning given to the incoming freshmen about the importance of this test. If I had known the consequences of not racking my brain for every morsel of French vocabulary I had ever learned in high school, maybe I wouldn”t have taken this test so lightly.
If I had known I would have to surrender my schedule to my language requirement or that I would spend the next two years crowded into the basement of the Modern Language Building four days a week, I promise you I would have taken this more seriously.
The language requirement is the only subject within LSA that takes up two years of your life without being your major. Of course you can choose any language you want but then you are forced to take four semesters of that language with no leeway. In addition, your ability to learn languages doesn”t really matter. It”s a fact that some students” brains don”t register foreign languages as well as others. I may have a hard time and need to go slowly while the girl sitting next to me might be ready to whiz through conjugates and subjunctives. What bugs me about this is that in other fields students are not forced to take a class from level one to level four. If you”re bad at chemistry you just don”t take it. You aren”t forced to train your brain the inner workings of the entire periodic table.
My other gripe is that most students don”t have the proper background education in English to learn a foreign language at such a high level. Most students don”t even know the basic grammar rules of English which can be confusing when learning the grammar of a whole different language. And if you start in a level 101 at the University then most likely the professor is going to speak only in the language you are taking. So if you can”t understand what she”s talking about in English then how can you understand what she”s talking about in Russian? It”s tricky, I tell you. Maybe I”m just biased because I”m an English major, but I think that it may be more important that students take more English classes than so many foreign language classes. Many students can technically graduate with little background in English literature and essay writing. However, these students will be perfectly able to give a full report on every German classic novel in German. Not that I have anything against German literature, but somehow this seems askew.
Just for the record, I”m not saying that the language requirement should be taken away. I understand why we should all have to learn a foreign language. I recognize the importance. However, my beef with the requirement is that it”s too strenuous. People whose brains don”t register and recognize other languages with ease should not be forced to reach such a higher level of proficiency. Those who really have a passion for languages be my guest. The truth of the matter is that the best way to learn a language is to be fully immersed in it. This would require being around people who speak your language of choice 24 hours a day, not simply four hours a week. Better yet, it”s much easier to learn another language as a child when your brain is developing and is more malleable.
Recognizing these facts, I would argue that instead of making students like me struggle to learn Italian politics in Italian why don”t we just loosen up the requirement a bit. “S”il vous plait”.
Rebecca Isenberg can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.