Language classes swell

Stacy Jo

With the onset of the University’s semester conversion, a growing number of University students have chosen this year to fulfill their language requirement, forcing several language departments to accommodate unexpectedly large numbers of students.
Many foreign language department heads tout the looming approach of the University’s conversion to semesters in 1999-2000 as the primary motivation behind the influx of students this year. Other factors in the foreign language boom are an increased emphasis on globalization and improvements in department faculty.
Department heads remain divided on the merits of the language programs’ sudden growth; some welcome the ballooning enrollments while others call the increase overwhelming.
This growth is not restricted to the more commonly taught languages of French, German and Spanish; the Hebrew, Chinese and Scandinavian language departments, among others, have also experienced an upsurge of students.
While some department heads say they were prepared for an upswing in enrollment, others were caught off guard, creating tension with the scheduling officials.
“(The College of Liberal Arts) is promoting globalization in its curriculum, but they forgot to prepare us,” said Yu-Shih Chen, head of the Chinese department.
With one-third more students than expected enrolling in Chinese this year, Chinese department officials were forced to ask some students to take the class next summer or after the semester conversion next fall. In the 1997-98 academic year, class size in Chinese averaged 15 to 18 students; this year, the average has risen to 22 students per class.
Chen expressed concern about the constraints large class sizes place on teaching. Crowded classrooms, combined with the difficulty of finding qualified instructors, have forced the department’s instructors to make minor adjustments in teaching style.
“We’re very concerned about the quality of what we offer the students,” Chen said.
Other department heads view the increase as a positive trend.
With an increase of more than one-third over the previous year’s enrollment of 30 students in beginning Hebrew, Jonathan Paradise, founder of the program, welcomes the escalated enrollment.
Sixty students enrolled in Hebrew when Paradise initiated the program in 1965. Interest waned during the early 1980s and slowly began to rise just before the turn of the decade. Paradise cites the retention of highly qualified faculty and the practicality of the language as possible reasons for the enrollment increase.
“Interest (in Hebrew) is now enjoying a renaissance,” said Paradise.
Now in her sixth quarter of French, Angela Halbach said her language class is more crowded than in previous quarters. She said advisers encouraged her to complete her language requirement to avoid hassles with the semester conversion.
“Most of my friends just want to get it done with,” said Halbach, a CLA sophomore.
Although many of the language department heads pride themselves on their abilities to retain students, several predict enrollments will level off or decrease after the semester conversion.
Charlotte Melin, director of language instruction for German, Scandinavian and Dutch, said students should not be concerned about being able to take the language of their choice next year.
“We will try to provide them with what they need,” Melin said.