[lg policy] DUA: Change the foreign language requirement

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at gmail.com
Wed Oct 3 11:42:43 EDT 2018

DUA: Change the foreign language requirement The University’s foreign
language requirement as it stands now is overly burdensome for students

By Shrey Dua <http://www.cavalierdaily.com/staff/shrey-dua> | 10/02/2018


[image: op-NewCabell-ANazari]

Many of the University's language departments are housed within New Cabell
* Ariana Nazari <http://www.cavalierdaily.com/staff/ariana-nazari> |
Cavalier Daily *

The University’s general education curriculum is both long and diverse
<http://college.as.virginia.edu/requirements>. Amongst the plethora of
classes University students must complete, one that deserves particular
scrutiny is the foreign language requirement. The foreign language
requirement <http://college.as.virginia.edu/competency-requirements> asks
students to complete four semesters of a language of their choosing, prior
to their seventh semester. As simple as it sounds, the requirement consists
of typically four or five classes a week, with lengthy homework due nearly
every day, in order to maximize exposure to the language.

In my own experience, completing homework and memorizing vocabulary and
grammar takes up more time than most of my other classes combined. This
reality is unfortunate because, for many students, the foreign language
requirement is just a box that is waiting to be checked. In fact, most
students enter the University having already taken several years of a
language to graduate from high school. Given this, I believe the foreign
language requirement as it stands now is overly burdensome for students who
have already had experience with a foreign language and does not adequately
consider students’ experiences with these languages prior to them entering
the University.

One of the ways the University evaluates a student’s language abilities is
through various placement tests. These tests supposedly place students into
classes corresponding to their skill levels, however, there are some
inherent problems with these exams. Only some
<http://college.as.virginia.edu/fl-faq> of the more popular languages,
French, Spanish, German, Latin and Italian, have placement tests that are
online and can be completed at home. Other more obscure languages have
tests that must be taken in person at the University.

Unfortunately, there are some other fundamental issues with the placement
exams and how they assess student’s previous experiences with a foreign
language. For one, online placement tests make it possible for some
students to cheat and access additional resources or, in some cases, have a
fluent friend or family member take the test for them. This allows some
students to unfairly forgo the foreign language requirement all-together,
with seemingly no other way for the University to verify if the student is,
in fact, fluent in the language. Transfer students — many of whom may have
already completed a different foreign language requirement for their
previous university —  may also be required to continue with a language
they have not studied in some time or, if they score poorly enough on the
placement test, start all over again.

For transfer students with aspirations to enter the coveted McIntire School
of Commerce, the foreign language requirement presents a near impenetrable
obstacle. The business program requires
<https://www.commerce.virginia.edu/undergrad/prerequisites> all accepted
students to have completed the language requirement, in its entirety, prior
to entering McIntire. For transfer students who are required to take four
semesters of a language, any hopes of entering the business school are
nearly immediately dashed, with the only possibility being to enter
the six-week
summer intensive program <https://sli.virginia.edu/>. This program can
theoretically assist students in meeting the language requirement in a
timely fashion, but completing it heavily impedes summer internships,
requires students to pay for additional summer housing and is difficult to
enter in the first place due to the limited number of spots available per

Other options to complete the foreign language requirement, like Advanced
Placement tests and SAT II subject tests, prove to be just as flawed. Many
languages, like Russian, Hindi and Persian, don’t have any sort of
applicable AP or SAT subject tests, giving students with experience in
these languages less opportunities to place out of the requirement. In
addition, the departments vary in terms of what scores
<http://college.as.virginia.edu/fl-placement-index> adequately fulfill
certain course requirements, meaning some students come into the University
at an immediate disadvantage simply because of the language they chose to

I believe a school in the Commonwealth that has a much more logical foreign
language system is Virginia Tech. At Virginia Tech, if a student has taken
two to three years
of a language in high school, they adequately meet the foreign language
requirement, and no further action is required. It allows students who’ve
been adequately exposed to a language the opportunity to avoid retreading
old land and explore other offerings at the university, while still giving
students with lesser experience adequate time with a unique culture and

Despite the inherent issues with the way foreign languages are administered
by the University, it would be a mistake not to acknowledge the benefits of
studying a foreign language. It encourages students to have a more global
mindset, instilling with them a feel for values and cultural nuances wholly
unfamiliar to them. In a more interconnected world, it’s an invaluable
perspective to have and to nurture. With that said, forcing students to
spend thousands of dollars learning a language they have likely already
spent time studying and may have no interest in exploring further is
ridiculous. By mirroring the language policy of Virginia Tech, we would
enable those personally invested in a language the opportunity to continue
learning it, while allowing students with more experience in a language the
ability to forgo the requirement all together.

 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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