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.
For most students studying a foreign language at Transylvania, their class meets three times a week for fifty minutes. If the goal of taking these courses is to ultimately achieve perfect fluency, it doesn’t matter how engaged the professor is with their students, the student is only within an environment to practice the language for one hundred and fifty minutes a week—this is nothing. Unfortunately, without a specific immersion program for the language, there is only so much that can be done by the professor for their students within the confines of such a small teaching window. Under these conditions, it is ultimately up to the student to study and review on their own, and to take it upon themselves to further their foreign language. The professor can (and frequently does) provide extensive online resources for students to utilize, be they links to documentaries to watch, or online articles to read. The professor can invite students to study abroad or to attend local events where they might practice their language, but in the end, the reality is that the student is only totally immersed in the study of their language for 2.5 hours a week. Only so much is going to be accomplished, lest the student themselves is incentivized. The real fault lies within the standard curriculum for foreign language, and not with the professor.
What’s more, countless studies have shown that the single best means for successful acquisition of a new language is not countless hours spent in study, but actually speaking the language. So, even though study is without a doubt an effective tool for speaking a language better, actually using the language is going to do more for the student than pouring over conjugation exercises. To this end, the professor is obviously available through office hours if the student wants extra practice speaking, but what students don’t realize is that by far the best resource they have is each other. Even in smaller programs of language study within Transy, like German and Chinese, there are still other students learning the language alongside one another. Students have the ability to converse with one another and so advance their practical language proficiency this way, but most just do not take advantage of the fact that they are within a community of foreign language learners like themselves.
The foreign language program at Transy is standard as far as university curricula go, and unfortunately, without a true immersion program, the greatest professor in the world is not going to be able to impart unto their students all the complexities and nuances of another language. However, if the professor is good, and if the student takes it upon themselves to work outside of the classroom to make up for all the other days without language study, it is feasible for the student to do very well, and to pick up the language in great part. Ultimately, time spent abroad utilizing the language everyday is the only real means to fully acquire fluency, but the Transylvania University program is not incapable of taking a student very far. In the end it is up to the student to take advantage of their foreign language department, to realize the shortcomings of a standard university foreign language curriculum, and to surpass these through dedicated study, and creative practice of the language; be that within the university community or outside of it.