[lg policy] Rochester (NY): Language policy stifles intellectual curiosity

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Sat Feb 6 15:57:22 UTC 2010

Language policy stifles intellectual curiosity
By Andrew Otis

Published: Friday, February 5, 2010

Updated: Friday, February 5, 2010

South Africa has 11 official languages, and I cannot get credit to
study any of them. Why? U[niversity of] R[ochester]’s language
department will not approve credit for any of these languages. I am
currently studying abroad at the University of Cape Town where I
wished to take a course in Afrikaans (classes start Friday, Feb. 5). I
cannot get credit because the UR language department’s policy is to
not approve credit for languages it does not offer. I could get credit
for a Spanish or German course at the University of Cape Town, but why
the hell would I want to do that? That would be like traveling all the
way to Paris and never once stepping into the Louvre or eating a

It makes no sense. I’m in South Africa, and I want to study its
languages. Of course, I could take Afrikaans, not get credit and
thereby graduate a semester late. My intellectual curiosity does not
go so far as to fund an extra $25,000 semester at UR. Nor should it be
required to do so.  The whole point of studying abroad is to learn
other cultures and to experience their way of life. Language is
arguably the most important aspect of many cultures. South Africans
who speak Afrikaans, particularly the Afrikaners, are very proud of
their language, which is closely related to Dutch (the Dutch were the
first European colonists of the region).

Afrikaans is the most commonly spoken language in Suid-Afrika besides
English. It is, for example, spoken at home by approximately 60
percent of people in Western Cape, the province I am studying in.
Students from other American universities can study South African
languages at the University of Cape Town, and most do. I have friends
here who are taking Xhosa, Afrikaans and Zulu. Other students, like
those from Middlebury College in Vermont, are even required to take a
foreign language as part of cultural immersion.
What makes us different? A UR student studying in Romania, for
example, should have the option to receive credit for a Romanian
course, despite our department not offering courses in that language.

Thirty percent of our student body currently travels abroad, so this
problem affects UR students studying all over the globe. There are
literally hundreds of languages — who is to say we can only study so
few of them? As a general recommendation, the Students’ Association
should meet with and actively encourage the administration and
language department to amend the rules on credit approval for language
courses overseas. Moreover, the University itself should take the
initiative to change this backward nonsensical policy. An education is
worth nothing if it does not broaden the mind. For a university that
prides itself on academic freedom, it is a travesty that it is so
difficult to study that which drives our intellectual curiosity and
satisfies our willingness to learn.


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