Foreign language requirement offers important balance to well-rounded education

Gwen Fries April 1, 2015 0

In order to satisfy the requirements laid out by the Core Program, students must take a “Power of Language” course studying either a modern or ancient foreign language. The College deems knowledge of a foreign language as essential to being a well-rounded student and offers majors in French, German, Japanese and Spanish, as well as elective courses in Chinese and American Sign Language. Depending on the availability of faculty, students get to experience Latin and Hebrew as well.

However, only one semester of a foreign language is required. Is one semester sufficient to claim knowledge of a foreign language? Is this the aim of the College, or is being exposed to the language enough?

As far as I can tell, the College leaves it up to the students to decide if they’d like to take a crack at fluency or merely open themselves up to another nation’s tongue. If a student has completed several years of a language at their high school, they are forbidden from taking an entry-level course in that language for obvious reasons. The problem is that many students do not believe they took the high school courses seriously enough to enter into a higher-level college course and succeed.

“I took three years of Spanish in high school,” junior Nicholas Viscardi said, “and then I took French here. For one, I didn’t want to place into a higher level Spanish course because I felt like I didn’t remember enough from high school. Secondly, I wanted to try something different and learn about a different culture.”

Junior Allison Salata faced the same problem. “I took four years of Spanish in high school, but I ended up taking Latin here because I was placed in a Spanish class I felt was too difficult for the abilities I had from high school.” As Viscardi noted, there is usually more than one factor influencing a student’s decision. “I was also interested to see the similarities between Latin and Spanish,” Salata said.

Viscardi and Salata are hardly alone. Senior Phillip Spector was a Spanish student in high school and switched to German to complete the College’s requirement. He admits one semester was not conducive to his feeling fluent in German.

Similarly, I took four years of Spanish and two years of French in high school. When I arrived at Penn State University for my first year of college, I was placed into a 300-level Spanish course and a 200-level French course based on my experience. Though there is not a large difference there, I opted to pursue my education in French because of a love for the language and a perceived comparative ease. Penn State requires at least two semesters of a foreign language, and I decided two semesters of French would get me where I wanted to be. I was aiming to reach a conversational level in both languages, not have the ability to write a dissertation in Spanish.

After my first semester, I felt a little shaky in my ability to speak the language effectively. Once I completed the second semester, I was finding my footing, and oral exams did not make me quite as physically ill as they had the semester before. I may not have been able to find the exact word I wanted to use, but I did not blank on every single word of the French language. I needed the extra semester to gain that confidence.

If fluency, or at least competence, in a language is the desired outcome, more than one semester is required, whether “more” means a combination of high school and Elizabethtown College or several semesters at the College.

“I took Spanish both in high school and here at Etown,” sophomore Ethan Weber said. Though admitting it might be a little difficult, Weber continued, “I feel like I can hold a basic conversation in Spanish.”

Many different factors, including scheduling issues and study abroad opportunities, affect how Etown students experience their foreign language.

“I took Spanish for one year and Latin for three in high school,” junior Kimberly Melito said. “I haven’t taken my language yet, but I am taking Spanish next semester. I would have to take the placement exam for Latin, and then I could have possibly been put in Latin 2, which is only offered in the spring. But I have to take my language in the fall because I will be student teaching in the spring.”

“I took four years of German in high school and then minored in German at Etown. Two semesters here and one abroad,” senior Tamara Eichelberger said. “It was really tough at first to be totally immersed, especially because the first eight weeks of my study abroad trip were spent in Austria, where they speak a different German dialect. I spent three hours a day learning German there, though, so by the time I actually went to Germany, I felt prepared to take on my semester. At the end of my time abroad, I felt very comfortable getting around and speaking in German.”

Especially with the upcoming addition of American Sign Language, Etown is full of opportunities to make the foreign language requirement as enjoyable as possible.

“I think it is extremely important that Etown added this course because American Sign Language is a language, but it is also more than that,” sophomore Tyler Latshaw said. “It is an entire culture developed around the ability to communicate through visual signals from your hands, face and body.”

“In a broader sense, this course will be very beneficial to the Elizabethtown College course catalog because, while it is a language course, part of the course objective is to immerse yourself in culture through the SLE requirement,” Latshaw said.
“Students will have the opportunity to gain valuable community-based learning knowledge of the deaf and hard of hearing culture by attending ASL religious services, theater shows in sign and even attend a Saturday coffee hour in which they can converse with a deaf person and learn new perspectives.”

“For a smaller school, I do think Etown offers a lot of different language classes at many different levels,” Eichelberger said.

 

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