Who Needs Foreign Languages?

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Foreign language professors at George Washington University are very worried about jobs and the futures of their department. Thanks to a change in the school’s degree requirements, students will no longer have to take foreign languages to fulfill their distribution requirements. According to an article in Inside Higher Ed:

The final package of reforms — adopted by arts and sciences faculty Friday in an overwhelming vote — went even further. The college had required two courses in foreign languages or cultures — and that requirement is gone. The college’s new requirements for various kinds of learning outcomes (such as critical thinking) have been set up in such a way that introductory foreign language courses will automatically not count toward the fulfillment of any requirement.

As a result of the new distribution requirements, taking a foreign language won’t really count at all toward a diploma (except in terms of general credits acquired toward a degree). So why would students take foreign languages at all?

Well, exactly. They wouldn’t, unless they were very committed to learning a language and found a way to fit it into their schedules. Professors find this development very unfortunate. According to the article:

“It’s one thing to say that you don’t have to study a foreign language, but to say that if you want to study one, we won’t give you credit for any requirement? That’s actively discouraging study of foreign languages,” said Richard M. Robin, director of Russian language study at the university.

This change in distribution requirements, which apparently now focus more on learning outcomes and less on subject diversity, occurred at a school actively trying to position itself as a leader in the study of international affairs. GW boasts that “a global perspective is essential to GW’s academic mission, and the University has long supported international travel to conduct research, study cultures and languages, [and] promote collaboration with peer institutions.”[Image via]

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer