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Rethinking the foreign language requirement for the College of Arts and Sciences


By Luca Lattanzi | Personal Writer

As it stands, the College of Arts and Sciences requires at least three semesters of a foreign language to graduate from most majors.

The vast majority of majors and minors within the College of Arts and Sciences, however, are not related to a foreign language in any way.

It is certainly true that learning a foreign language can be extremely beneficial to those able to achieve fluency, and language majors within the College of Arts and Sciences will continue to achieve fluency in their languages ​​regardless of any requirement due to the nature of their studies.

Just three or four semesters of a language course is not enough to gain proficiency or fluency in any language. At a minimum, the language requirement for the College of Arts and Sciences should be reduced to two semesters, for consistency with other colleges that require a foreign language.

This would at least ensure that all students, irrespective of their specialisation, have the choice of whether or not they wish to continue learning a foreign language after being exposed to the experience.

A common defense of the three- or four-semester language requirements in a liberal arts curriculum seems to be that these requirements will continue to prepare college students for their careers, or that the United States needs a larger body of multilingual citizens to compete in an economic world.

That argument was made in an article published by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, stating that “America also desperately needs multilingual citizens to maintain its competitive edge in an increasingly global economy.”

What is left out of this argument, however, is that the United States and the United Kingdom, both English-speaking countries, have historically catalyzed much of that globalization to begin with. This helps explain why English is still the most widely spoken, and therefore still the most critical, language when it comes to conducting business in international markets.

That’s not to say that learning a second language is automatically irrelevant, but understanding the importance of the English language in our increasingly globalized world can certainly help put things into perspective.

But again, even having said all of this, we are still faced with the fact that the vast majority of American students are nowhere near fluent in a second language after a language requirement in a college setting. How come?

In many language courses, American students are often taught how a language works grammatically before actually learning how to pronounce the words.

This is counterintuitive to how people actually learn languages. When you were little, did you learn to write English or speak it first? Chances are you learned to pronounce single words and subsequently understand the accompanying grammar through graded correction and repetition.

Of course every professor is different, but if the university is adamant that students become proficient at learning a foreign language, then it might be worth exploring different ways to teach languages ​​in general.

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