The debate over foreign language requirements continues

The MLA released a study on foreign language in higher education.

With so much focus on foreign language study these days, some are questioning whether two years is enough for fluency or even necessary at all.

Foreign language enrollment in higher education grew by nearly 25 percent from 2002 to 2006, according to a study released by the Modern Language Association, which are the most recent numbers available.

At the University, the College of Liberal Arts currently requires students to take a minimum of two years of a foreign language, but a different study by the American Council on Education study says that’s not nearly enough.

Of the students who enroll in foreign language courses, “few reach even an elementary level of competence,” according to the study released in 2000.

Elaine Tarone, director of the University’s Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition, said fluency isn’t necessarily the goal.

“The purpose of a language requirement is to ensure that all students have some minimal level of proficiency in a foreign language,” she said. “This foreign language proficiency has long been considered a core outcome of a liberal education, and it is no less so as we move into new global terrain.”

The CLA language requirement can cause some students to shy away from applying to the school, communications junior Jessie Johnson said.

“One of my friends would not apply to that school because of the requirement,” Johnson said.

Johnson also said she is frustrated by having to study the same language for all four semesters to meet the requirement.

English and philosophy junior Sarah Morrison shared similar frustrations.

“I am definitely non-fluent. I feel like I could converse intelligently with a 7-year-old,” she said.

“I do not believe it is possible to be fluent in a language in two years,” she added. “CLA would probably have to either increase the requirement, most students would not be in favor of that, or leave the requirement as it is.”

Daniel Brewer, professor of French and Italian, said in an e-mail that language study is much more than the ability to communicate.

” ‘Proficiency’ includes linguistic proficiency – but our courses also stress cultural proficiency,” he said. “Can you understand the way in which another culture is structured? Can you explain why a certain value or point of view makes sense in terms of the foreign culture?”

Brewer said cultural proficiency also involves the ability to “step outside the familiar and the supposedly ‘natural’ (American) way” and experience a different lifestyle.

But Morrison said CLA officials should express their intentions to students prior to their enrollment.

“I think it is ultimately up to the individual, but CLA should express that students won’t be fluent after four semesters,” she said.

Recent University graduate Jacques Maxwell said he would have rather not had a language requirement, which he fulfilled by studying French.

“Requiring two years was too much,” Maxwell said. “That time could be better utilized focusing on requirements for your major.”

Still, enrollment numbers at the University have fluctuated since 2004, but summary totals for the 2007 and 2008 academic year showed high numbers of student enrollment.

Ultimately, students who want advanced language proficiency should choose their programs wisely, Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition’s Tarone said, depending on what they want to learn.