Seattle: Globalization demands more foreign-language study, not less

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Tue Mar 17 21:13:55 UTC 2009

Globalization demands more foreign-language study, not less

Foreign-language programs are tempting targets for Washington's
universities and community colleges looking to save money, but steep
cuts in foreign studies is penny-wise and pound-foolish.

Seattle Times editorial

UNIVERSITIES and community colleges looking to trim foreign-language
study to help balance budgets must beware of trading short-term relief
for long-term headaches. The University of Washington changed policy
to allow students with three years of high-school foreign-language
study to meet its undergraduate-language requirement, thus bypassing
proficiency tests and introductory courses. The move saves money,
particularly for those students stuck in beginning French when they
did not need it. But it has worrisome implications for the future. The
changes push the onus for foreign-language proficiency down to high
schools, where many foreign-language offerings are either nonexistent
or lacking in rigor.

High-school graduates with strong foreign-language proficiency is the
goal, but right now it is not automatic students with three years of
high-school Japanese are at the same level as students who have
completed one year in college. No one expects foreign-language study
to escape the budget cuts hitting higher education. But making this
area take a bigger hit is unwise. Globalization demands proficiency in
foreign languages, international studies and understanding other
cultures. Business and engineering courses are important, but so is
guaranteeing students access to the Romantic languages or Urdu.

Seattle Central Community College is learning this lesson the hard
way. The institution had planned to reduce up to 2,500 seats in
first-year Spanish, Italian and French but a huge student outcry has
forced college officials to back off some changes.

Cuts in foreign languages are counterintuitive in a post-9/11 world.
In the wake of the terrorist attacks, colleges and universities saw a
rise in the number of students interested in studying foreign
languages and cultures. Enrollment has increased by 13 percent since
2002, according to The Modern Language Association of America, most
dramatically in languages considered critical to America's security
and economic future, such as Arabic and Chinese. Spanish remains the
most popular language studied  Linguistic offerings are expensive,
because they require smaller class sizes, but high demand ought to
keep universities and colleges solidly in the game.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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