Foreign languages too foreign for some to learn

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Casey Williams, Columnist

 

There is really no denying that the American education system has fallen behind in terms of teaching foreign languages to our youth, especially compared to most European countries.

The majority of American middle schools and high schools do not require a foreign language to graduate, which greatly decreases the likelihood of students learning another language. As we grow older, the mind becomes much less capable of learning and truly comprehending other languages.

Unfortunately, there is little to be done to make up for this issue. The solution is to not force these requirements on college students who have been failed by their school systems. Some incoming first-years come from school districts where learning a foreign language is not even an option. Forcing these students to struggle through not one, but three classes in another language is cruel and baffling.

If, at the point of enrollment in a university, a student has not had any education on learning a second language, it is extremely improbable that they will be able to succeed at it.  This is because by this time students have passed the critical point to learn this particular skill. By condoning these requirements, the school is setting students up to fail.

Having one required foreign language course implies that the administration believes this is a useful skill. Having two is challenging, but arguably feasible. Having three is unreasonable. Yes, Wesleyan students do seem to have above-average academic ability, but that does not mean that they are able to completely overcome the natural progression of brain development and critical periods of learning.

Of the students that have yet to meet the strict language requirements set forth by the school, I’ve personally heard a clear consensus that these requirements seem more or less impossible to satisfy. Instead of torturing them with unforgiving material and draining their enthusiasm for the subject, changes need to be made to promote the success and eagerness of the students.

If requirements like these are to remain, students should be able to reduce the number of required foreign language courses. Even better, there shouldn’t be any required in order to graduate. The only other adjustment that would be fair to students would be to make it so that students can take a single course in three different languages, if they so choose.

This way, students are still meeting the requirement for the number of credits, but are getting more use out of them as they can learn the initial teachings of several different languages, instead of struggling three quarters of the way through one.

While America has fallen behind other countries in regards to teaching foreign languages to its youth, we won’t solve the problem with stringent language requirements at the university level.