Language proficiency tests should be dropped

O By Sean Cahill

our world has entered an age of globalization, an age in which its success depends on communication and the understanding of many cultures and people. The University finds itself as a leader of research and the creation of knowledge of not only in the United States, but also in the world. College students are expanding their mental and cultural boundaries. Opportunities overseas and across the world are abundant here at the University. The College of Liberal Arts has tried to aid students in the global picture by using one main tool: the Graduation Proficiency Test. Unfortunately, this tool does not fulfill the purpose it was created for.

The GPT requires students who desire a Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Fine Arts or individualized studies degree to pass an exam that certifies their mastery of a particular language of their choice. CLA allows any student to take the test at any time, but it suggests that four semesters of a language should be taken to attain the level of skill required to pass. This test is actually quite daunting, and so are the four semesters of one language. It is the fear of the GPT within the student community that undermines the purpose of this test.

The GPT troubles many students and, as a result, there is little exploration of the language resources available here at the University. For the most part, U.S. high schools offer French, German and Spanish as their main, if not only, options for studying a second language. On occasion, one will find Latin and American Sign Language; regardless, there are a very limited number of options available to high school students.

The first opportunity many students are given to learn a completely foreign language is in college. Here at CLA, students are offered more than 30 languages to study. Thanks to the GPT, however, many students are too afraid to venture outside their high school studies. Students are too concerned about passing the GPT to explore opportunities that might completely change their approach to their life and career.

I also suffer from such an epidemic. I began studying Latin this year, and I quickly fell in love with the language. I developed a hunger for information about its culture and history. Despite this enjoyment, my grades have done little to reflect my passion for Latin. Just like most students in CLA, I will return to my high school language, French, to assure that I pass the GPT.

Let me note my distaste for French. After having studied a completely new language, French seems unexciting and bland. Basically, I am subjecting myself to four semesters of a boring language I have no interest in; I’m taking it just to assure my success. The worst part is I know I am not alone. Students in CLA must be allowed to explore their world and interests and should not be subjected to the horrible requirements of this institution. Students are being sentenced to a language out of a fear of failing the GPT.

We must remove this fear and let students discover a much larger world. We can do this quite simply: Remove the GPT as a requirement for a degree. Students are and will be able to realize how necessary a language is to their success in a global society today. I guarantee that not only will students continue to study languages, but enrollment will increase for all languages. We will see the greatest increase in languages currently taken by only a handful of adventurous students. It should not take courage for students to learn a truly foreign language; it should spark curiosity that can be fanned into a bonfire of academic desire.

There is precedent for such an action. When the University of Rochester in New York dropped its language requirement, language enrollment skyrocketed. According to University of Rochester officials, language enrollment increased more than 30 percent in the five years after dropping its language requirement. Currently, approximately 30 percent of its undergraduates are enrolled in a language. Students were no longer chained to a mainstream language by their fear of failure. Which other programs might also be affected? Consider how study abroad programs will be affected not only by a greater number of students taking languages, but a much more diverse collection of languages at that.

By dropping the GPT as a degree requirement, enrollment in languages could increase and benefit not only students, but the College of Liberal Arts itself. Stop pushing students to explore the world, and let them do it themselves.

Sean Cahill is a CLA freshman. Send letters to the editor to [email protected]