Forcing students to take four semesters of a language eliminates other avenues of educational exploration and wastes student resources.
Honestly, I couldn’t tell you what I learned in my Spanish lessons. I remember “me llamo”, “porque” and some funny swear words. I remember all the Day of the Dead skulls (or do I remember the “Coco” one?). I remember always trying to sit next to Jenny or associate with her. But would I feel comfortable if I was kidnapped and dropped off in Spain? I can not tell.
Without a doubt, my experience is not limited to myself. Teaching methods and results are poor in higher education for various reasons when it comes to teaching foreign languages. Language is studied as a subject and not as a skill; students are usually passive participants who are forced into the course, which lowers morale. Of course, you could blame me and my peers for not studying diligently. But that’s the reality, and most students leave their classes with only a slight familiarity with the language and a semblance of culture and far from being fluent. These are particularly troubling results when NYU requires a two-year language commitment. NYU should modify this requirement.
The main problem here is that foreign language courses take away resources at the individual and institutional level. By forcing a student to take a foreign language course — or four, in this case — you remove four choices that the student could have used for other purposes. These electives could have been used to build richer subject-specific knowledge, explore new areas, help them find their passion, or simply complete their GPA for the competitive graduate admissions process.
One can also think of the foreign language requirement through monetary value. If a student were to take a four-credit language course for four semesters, that would total 16 credit hours. It is $28,250, or the equivalent of one semester of NYU tuition, spread over two years (or the 16 months you are in class). When you think of a language tutor who can give you personalized attention at an average of $50 per hour, you’re looking at a fraction of the cost.
Enrollment in some classes would likely decline without the foreign language requirement and could cause some language departments to close. But I would say for the sake of the majority that if a language department receives so little support that it has to close, those resources might be better spent elsewhere. We could fund other departments that are of real interest to students or even just disburse scholarship rebates. If NYU could afford it all, great, but maybe try taking care of thousands of students who inherit thousands dollars in student debt and barely see a chance to raise their family from poverty.
One could also argue that without language requirements, the spirit of a liberal arts education would be threatened by reducing a student’s exposure to other cultures, norms, and viewpoints (perhaps they don’t). won’t say like that). But I would refer them to our esteemed College Core Curriculum with Texts and Ideas, Cultures and Contexts and Expressive Cultures. And if you’re in the core liberal studies program, great – how about the six Arts and Cultures and World Works and Society sequences.
The non-existence of a foreign language requirement is not a new idea. We could report brown university and Johns Hopkins University, whose requirements are extremely relaxed. We could turn to the best qualified institutions of liberal arts colleges such as Amherst, bowdoin and williamsall NYU leaders in Rhodes, Fulbright and other prestigious scholarships. We wouldn’t say these colleges are lacking or falling behind.
This is not to denigrate the importance of learning a foreign language or NYU. There is no better way to communicate with someone than with their own language. Language itself is a unique, intimate and beautiful medium. Students can still choose to take classes in Spanish, Mandarin or Swahili. Also, NYU has been a fantastic place for me to explore new cultures, norms, and points of view. But because the foreign language course requirement fails its purpose, it should be suspended as it wastes resources that NYU could better spend otherwise.
Contact Mathieu Franco at [email protected]