Head to Head: Does Transy do enough to promote second languages? That’s not the point.

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Each Wednesday, Taylor Felts and Jacob Broyles will tackle two sides of a contentious issue facing the Transy community. This week, we ask the question “Does Transy’s current foreign language program requirement do enough to encourage practical fluency in students who don’t already speak a second language?” Due to some unusual circumstances this week— both Mr. Broyles and Ms. Felts largely agree— an opposing opinion will be provided by Opinion Editor Tristan Reynolds.

Read Taylor Felts concurring here. Read Tristan Reynolds arguing against here


 

At Transylvania, if you have no prior experience with a second language you are required to take at least the first two general classes in a language of your choice. To even ask whether or not these requirements are enough to encourage practical fluency or not is to miss the purpose of the language requirement in the first place. The intent of the general language requirements are not necessarily to provide a student with a practical level of fluency. Ask anyone who went to college and had general language requirements imposed on them how much of that language they remember. It is highly unlikely they remember much of anything or even remember anything long enough to make any meaningful practical use of the language they learned. It does not take long after the being exposed to those requirements that most people will begin to forget that they have learned if they choose not to pursue further experiences with their chosen language.

This does not, however, reflect a need for more robust foreign language requirements that encourage a level of practical fluency. The real purpose of these requirements is for the experience of learning how to learn a language,  and the exposure to the kind of thinking it takes to learn a foreign language. Learning a language forces you to think in ways that you never have before and has been shown to reap many cognitive benefits.  It is not necessarily the practical use that you may get out of the language that is important, but the fact that by learning a new language you are exposing yourself to an entirely different way of thinking as well as a culture foreign to that of your own. This purpose of the language requirement is certainly within the spirit of the liberal arts education.

Expanding the ways in which you think and the perspectives that you are able to look at the world from is the very essence of a liberal arts education. To worry about expanding foreign language requirements and expectations on students in order to “encourage more practical fluency” is to miss the point of the foreign language requirements within the context of a liberal arts education. Expanding the requirements would also run the risk of over-burdening students with general requirements.  No one should be forcibly over-exposed to something that they may have no interest in, and may not use again in any practical sense. It is a waste of the student’s time and is highly counter-intuitive, from a liberal arts perspective, to impose lengthy and in depth requirements for not only a foreign language, but any other area as well.

I believe that Transy’s foreign language requirements are best left just as they are.  A bare minimum of two semesters required in a language if you have no prior experience with one is enough to expose students to the type of thinking required to learn a language and the culture associated with the respective language.  Requiring more time and effort from students devoted to foreign language requirements in order to encourage practical fluency is not in the spirit of a truly beneficial liberal arts style education.

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