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Foreign language courses should speak to students

Published: Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Updated: Tuesday, October 2, 2012 22:10

University foreign-language classes would better serve uninterested students if the courses were more immersive.

As connections to people across the globe become more common, learning a second or third language is becoming more important. Employers, in both the private and public sector, benefit increasingly from employees who speak multiple languages, and they are seeking this skill more and more in job candidates.

Many undergraduate degrees at USF require students take at least two semesters of a foreign language. These two semesters, however, are usually not enough for students to retain the language and be able to hold a basic conversation.

But they should be.

Often, students who are enrolled in the first two semesters of a foreign language only take the courses to fulfill graduation requirements. Since this is the case, the interest level of many is low, and professors unrightfully cater to this student laziness. But isn’t the point of the requirement so that students will learn?
More comprehensive instruction could boost student interest and increase information retention. According to a University of Ottawa study on second language retention, motivation is “essential” to long-term language retention. Interest in language for students only taking the classes to graduate starts in the
classroom.

More language programs should follow a path similar to USF’s Chinese language program, which teaches language through immersion and expects students to be prepared for class and study outside the classroom. Its native-language exchange partnerships among students is a great way to peak student drive to learn the language and culture — instead of merely memorizing vocabulary words and
conjugation patterns.

Teaching in the target language, in conjunction with English for more complex explanations, gives students a chance to become accustomed to the language’s sounds and grammar constructions, as well as speak in a conversational manner and pick up on colloquial phrases.

It can also make for interesting cultural and interactive classroom activities, like holding a “market” day or
singing songs, and can make the acquisition of language more personal and interesting to students.

Language is a gateway to new ideas and perspectives. Students need the opportunity and the inspiration to embrace a new language and have the tools available to succeed using it in the real world. Language and grammar are complex subjects, but immersion and holding students responsible will increase student interest, success and retention of the learned material.

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