Monday, January 12, 2009

How much do you remember from LANG 101/102?

I was reading Revising and Defending the Foreign Language Major on InsideHigherEd the the other day when I had a small flashback to recent conversations that I've had with former classmates about their language learning experiences and the language retention that they have.

In high school, I was required to take two years of a foreign language in order to graduate. I elected to take 4 years (coming up to an intermediate-advanced level). Had I started French in 8th grade I would have had the opportunity to take 5th year French (AP level).

When I went to college as an undergrad, I was required to take two semesters (101 and 102) of a language in order to graduate. I elected to minor in Italian (6 or 7 courses if I remember correctly) and I almost minored in German (took 6 out of 7 courses). My interest in language is cultural and communicative - not literature, and that 7th German course would have been a German literature course in english (so I couldn't even practice the language) and it would have meant one extra semester to graduation - no thanks, I said. With French, German and Italian I am conversant to various degrees (depending on the language)

Now I also took 101 and 101 of Japanese, Chinese and Russian. My recollection of these languages is very limited. I can say good morning, hello and thank you, maybe even "my name is..."

I have asked classmates in those classes that only took 101/102 with me if they remember much beyond that and the response was negative. In other words, wasted time, wasted money, wasted credits! What is the point of requiring someone to take x-amount of classes in a foreign language if they don't see a benefit from it? At least with Art, Sociology, Psychology and Philosophy the way you look at things, the way you think, the way you process is altered in some fashion. Language is a communicative process. We learn language to communicate with others, so requiring so-many-courses and to have nothing to show for it is not good.

So here's my modest proposal: Require every undergraduate to minor in a language and pass a proficiency exam before they can graduate, and no one is exempt! You know Greek and English? Excellent opportunity to pick up Chinese, or Russian, or Japanese, or Spanish or whatever! You only know English? Excellent opportunity to learn more about another language and culture.

A minor is six or seven courses. Within the confine of 18 to 21 credits students can become conversant in a foreign language, learn a bit about world history as it relates to that language and culture, learn a bit of its literature (don't overdo the literature, after all the focus is communication), and be able to communicate well in an oral and written manor!

Now, if high schools were the same, if all students were required to have four years of English and four years of another language (plus pass competency exams), the time spent in the classroom would be well worth it because we would come out with tangible outcomes!

-just my two cents on the issue
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