Thursday, May 13, 2010

Is Mandatory Language Study Valuable?

The one curricular requirement that my advisees complain about most vocally (in English) is the language requirement. The argument in favor of it is that to be a full person today, you must be a citizen of the world and that means being able to speak a language other than English. Language is pregnant with culture and you cannot really understand the worldview but through the mother tongue. Additionally, it is the only way that you really understand how much of your own assumptions are not objective reality, but based upon cultural baggage you inherited. In a country that occupies a singular place in the world and is geographically quite isolated linguistically, it is our responsibility to broaden ourselves and reach out.

The argument on the other side is that a couple semester of grudgingly conjugating the irregular verbs "to be" and "to have" don't get you anywhere near the fluency that would generate the condition for cultural enlightenment. It is time that could be better spent on concerns of personal interest for students. Language study is hard and takes a lot of time and practice, time and effort that could be redirected.

Is mandatory language study valuable?