[lg policy] Not just a side dish

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at gmail.com
Thu Feb 8 10:14:07 EST 2018

 Not just a side dish 0

   - by BlueStocking Admin
   - in Academics
   · Campus Community
   <http://www.presby.edu/bluestocking/category/campus-community/> · Student
   Life <http://www.presby.edu/bluestocking/category/student-life/> · Study
   - — 7 Feb, 2018

Libby in Lyon.

*by Libby Fowler |** Co-Editor-in-Chief*

I took my first French class when I was around 11 years old, which was
taught by a woman who was born and raised in Europe. She seemed very
“French” to my young self, with her flyaway, unkempt dark hair, her modest
use of makeup, and her brown clogs that she wore nearly every time I saw

Since then, there has not been a year in my life in which I have not
studied a language — although there were three years during which I studied
a semester of Spanish and two years of Latin (I refer to this time as the
“dark ages” of my educational career, due to the absence of French). The
11-year-old me found something gratifying in being able to communicate in
another language, although my motives back then were perhaps less than
honorable (since I really just wanted the ability to speak to my sisters in
French without my parents’ understanding). Needless to say, I can’t imagine
my life without some kind of language in it.

Cheese in France.

Although I may not have known it at the time, the study of language
sculpted me into the person I am today. Not only did I begin learning about
a completely different culture, but this, in turn, taught me valuable
knowledge about my own identity as an English-speaking American.

As I reflect upon my time spent applying to colleges and universities, I
remember how many people advised me to emphasize how I was a “diverse”
individual, as well as being sure to mention my concern for and knowledge
of other languages and cultures. I learned that the need for this
multifacetedness only increased as I began attending a liberal arts
college, which required me to take a few courses in the Modern Foreign
Languages Department. It was at PC that my passion for language was truly
exposed. While I have always had an interest in the French language,
without PC’s requirement I don’t know if I would have started studying the
language early enough to complete a French major.

Unfortunately, it seems that many college students don’t share my passion
for language. According to Amelia Friedman of *The Atlantic* in 2015, “Only
7 percent of college students in America [were] enrolled in a language
course.” This unhappy truth is confirmed by a 2015 survey conducted by the
Modern Language Association revealing, “a 6.7 percent decline in enrollment
in such courses (comparing 2013 data to 2009 data).” This proves dangerous
to recent graduates in a world that is becoming more interconnected each
and every day. *The News & Observer* deems this statistic to be “a backward
slide that hurts the nation’s ability to compete economically and
diminishes the overall quality of a typical American education.”

At a book shop in Lyon.

While some students don’t take language courses simply because they may not
enjoy them, I can’t help but think that they simply may not be aware of the
vast benefits reaped upon studying a foreign language. Language-policy
analyst Rachel Hanson emphasizes this point: “Languages are not a side
dish…You can use [them] to augment and fortify other skills that you have,
and expand the application of these skills.” In fact, according to *The
News & Observer*, “Educators and researchers say the process stretches a
student’s overall learning skills.”

There is some dispute on whether the problem lies with apathetic students
or a lack of qualified language teachers and professors. However, the cause
should not necessarily be the focal point — rather, the immediate goal
ought to be increasing proficiency and skill within American students by
whatever means necessary.

With Dr. Kiley at the airport on the way to France.

Language — more specifically, language at PC — has altered my life path. It
is due to the enthusiasm and aid of Dr. Patrick Kiley that I decided to
pursue a French major (in addition to the English major I already had) and
visit France. It is due to Dr. Commans that I have discovered an unexpected
passion, despite its endless challenges: researching and analyzing French
literature by female authors. Spanish professor Dr. Saffi gave me
invaluable advice concerning the poetic voice following my French capstone
presentation last semester. I have found solace in Dr. Knight, from whom I
have never even taken a course — and yet she was still willing to invite me
into her office to talk, motivate, and even offer to write me a letter of
reference if I decide to pursue graduate school in the future. Every
correspondence I have ever had with any of the professors within the Modern
Foreign Languages has been full of encouragement.

Studying a foreign language is difficult and there is no doubt about it.
Sometimes even the English language confuses me, which I’ve been speaking
for a solid 22 years now; nevertheless, the challenge is worth it in every
way. What logic is found in shortchanging oneself and avoiding something
that has been proven to sharpen your mind (and make you more employable)?

It is bittersweet to think that I must leave my home in PC’s Modern Foreign
Languages Department in just a few short months. But, I know that without
the experience and challenge I would be a mere shadow of the woman I have
become — and am still becoming. I urge any person capable of learning,
especially my fellow PC students, to explore things unknown and unfamiliar;
you will not be disappointed.


 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com

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