In the midst of back-to-school madness, the hustle and bustle of putting last-minute schedules together, there is one thing guaranteed to taint the average Bachelor of Arts schedule for two years: foreign language requirements.
After completing high school, you thought it was over. You made it through the torture of Spanish/Latin/French, believing that once those three dreaded credits were finished, your foreign language endeavors would be like that sweater grandma gave you for Christmas or that one special night at the karaoke bar – never to be seen by the general public past that one time. Yet again the requirement has showed its hyphened and umlauted face, bringing back memories of how you should have remained friends with the kids memorizing their Spanish books who never saw the light of day, the good kids unwilling to acknowledge that your absent-minded high school teacher has not changed the answer key of his tests since the early 90s.
I loved those teachers in high school; however, they are not like the college professors I have chosen for foreign language classes – they remember to change their answer keys for each class. But I cannot help but wonder why the foreign language requirement is in place for Bachelor of Arts degrees.
As expressed earlier, if nothing else, foreign languages are extremely effective ways of measuring the extent of a person’s short-term memory. However, I have found that in packing 18-hour schedules my short-term memory is already challenged enough in my dominant language.
Students seek Bachelor of Arts degrees in order to escape the jargon of the medical field or the nightmares advanced calculus brings. Lawyers, photographers, actors, teachers, musicians and politicians are all products of the Bachelor of Arts degree, with only the politicians and lawyers needing the speciality of speaking in tongues proficiently. While foreign language learning may be a fulfilling experience for some, enriching vacation prospects or career placement, there are more who are chagrined at forcibly having to learn the languages that colleges’ cultural awareness pushes.
Amongst the crowd of displeased students there are some who have extreme difficulties with learning a new language. For a long time, people have blamed difficulties in second language acquisition on anxiety, poor learning habits, and the dirty phrase: lack of motivation. As we all know, lack of motivation is never an issue on college campuses. In a 30-year mission, Dr. Kenneth Dinklage studied Harvard’s best and brightest to discover why students with the highest marks in non-foreign language classes were not passing their language classes. Through his investigation, he found that lack of motivation was the least of the students’ problems. The students in the study were consulting renowned, high-end tutors, waiting for Colin Firth’s “I have something to say” moment. Alas, such a moment would not come, nor an Oscar nomination for that matter. Instead, the students faced the humiliating process of failing their first classes in the history of their careers. Eventually, Dr. Dinklage came across the answer. He had graduate students who had siblings with learning disabilities teach the distraught Harvard students using methods employed with learning disabled students. Sometimes, as Dr. Dinklage proved, it is not that the student is being the difficult “I wear my sunglasses at night because the world just doesn’t get it, man” rebel without a cause. Students legitimately have issues with learning foreign languages. While Harvard’s best and brightest had never had histories of learning disabilities, with foreign language studies they tested positive.
Similarly, Dr. John B. Carroll, an eminent psychologist of educational linguistics, proposed a theory about language learning aptitude that identified a group of four factors that impacted language learning ability. The four abilities consist of phonetic coding, grammatical sensitivity, rote learning, and inductive learning ability. It is the combination of all four fields that makes for a successful second language learning experience. What do I like about Dr. Carroll? His name. I also appreciate that the study revealed that a student doesn’t have to be a complete failure in the majority of the fields in order to be what Dr. Dinklage called “learning disabled.” The study concluded that since the majority of people required to take a second language are not natural-born Jason Bournes, they walk away from classes missing a significant portion of Carroll’s big four of language learning.
Comparing the studies of Dr. Dinklage and Dr. Carroll, it appears that there are more issues with learning foreign languages than college boards account for. The impracticality of the timeline in the midst of degree studies is a severe problem. Many students, myself included, have the issue of being in their last year of college and just now starting a two-year program of foreign language studies. I will be the first to admit that the distress second languages present to my person is an empire I helped create, yet I am not responsible for the sleepless nights where my brain cannot stop contemplating the meaning of life. The stress of foreign language learning induces waves of nostalgia which immediately result in me blaming my parents for not immersing me in a second language at a young age more effective for language learning. In the end, the foreign language requirement is a principle without a person, and the forces upholding the foreign language degree requirement would say I am a person without a principle. No wonder we get along.