By Lilyen McCarthy
At Adelphi, all Bachelor’s of Arts (BA), STEP, Honors and Levermore Global Scholars (LGS) students are required to master a foreign language up to a Level IV proficiency to fulfill the language requirement. Hundreds of students enroll in one of the languages offered each semester. According to Dr. Tandra Chakraborty, interim associate dean for Student Success and Strategic Initiatives in the College of Arts and Sciences, of the enrolled, 56 percent take Spanish, 8 percent are in French, 5 percent in Mandarin, 13 percent in Italian, 2 percent in Portuguese and 16 percent in Japanese.
However, these are the only programs at Adelphi that require a language, leaving some students to say the requirement is an unfair burden while others feel it adds to their educational experience. Regardless of their opinions about it, few students understand where the requirement came from and why it’s limited to the BA, STEP, Honors and LGS programs.
For example, as a part of her degree, Benicia Lasko, a sophomore English major enrolled in the STEP and Honors programs, is required to demonstrate mastery of a foreign language through a Level IV proficiency. Lasko had to take the last three of four levels at Adelphi, adding 12 credits to her requirements from general education, STEP, Honors and the English program. And that feels like a lot of pressure, she said.
“I can say it definitely put me under a lot more stress [fulfilling the language requirement], simply because I didn’t want to fall behind on my requirements to graduate, and I don’t remember nearly as much as I would have liked to from the classes I completed,” Lasko said.
She expressed what many students shared, questioning why some departments have the language requirement while others don’t. According to the explanation on the general education page, “The language requirement is part of Adelphi’s mission to prepare students to be informed and culturally sensitive citizens.”
But students say that with a mission to educate culturally sensitive students, why don’t all undergraduates across the university have to master a language to a certain proficiency? Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA), Business Administration (BBA) and Bachelor of Science (BS) students don’t have the language requirement as a part of their degree program. Majors in these degree programs often require around 70 credits within the field on top of general education requirements.
Chakraborty said when the Languages Department initially proposed the requirement during the 2007-‘08 school year, certain programs voted to exempt their students. They said scheduling around specific program courses and completing general education requirements alone is a lot for the BFA, BBA and BS students, so adding a language requirement would be too much for them.
At the same time, Dr. Priya Wadhera, associate chair of the Languages, Literatures and Cultures Department in the College of Arts and Sciences, said that the Level IV proficiency does not mean that all students are required to take four semesters of a language. Students have the option to test out. Wadhera explained that any student with prior knowledge or experience should take the placement exam and potentially be placed into Levels II, III or IV, meaning fewer than four semesters of language education. Performing well enough on a test and subsequently a supervised test could also result in testing out of a language altogether.
This was the case for sophomore media studies student Julia Lund. “I don’t think the language requirement for me personally was unfair, as I enjoy the language and aim to improve my skills as such. I also tested into Level III and then only had to take two classes rather than four,” she said.
Some students manage to add a language minor or even a double major to their BFA, BBA and BS degree, but this is an uncommon situation.
“I believe learning a second language is a very important skill to have, but I have some students struggling to graduate on time with the requirements they must complete now. They wouldn’t be able to handle a language on top of that,” said Chakraborty.
As an example, science students must schedule labs, lectures and other classes in a way that will allow them to graduate in four years. Crafting the right schedule in the correct order and other extracurriculars/personal responsibilities can be extremely difficult.
“The students who can fit a minor or add a major are the exception, not the rule. We must plan a curriculum around the general student population,” said Chakraborty, who also teaches biology.
From a language student’s perspective, sophomore Pamela Giannopoulos said her favorite part about the languages program is “being able to analyze not only the tongue in which we speak, but the derivatives behind it.” As a language and cultures major, she believes the language requirement is good and important. She said students not taking one are missing out on certain cognitive thinking and analytical skills. Giannopoulos said she chose the major because she enjoys learning about other cultures and the languages of those cultures as well. When others told her to choose jobs like nursing or teaching, Giannopoulos chose a future that would make her the happiest.
“An advantage I see myself having in the future is an expanded horizon. As a polyglot, I believe I am properly equipped to understand different aspects of cultures and appreciate the world we live in more,” she said.
After completing her foreign language requirement in fall 2022, Theresa reflected on her experience with the department.
“I believe having it [foreign language requirement] as a requirement encourages the students to focus more on passing than actually learning the language in depth,” she said. “But overall I think learning a language is really important, especially if you’re going into a field like education, social work, etc.”
Wadhera said that even for those students who don’t have a foreign language requirement, they are always welcome in the Languages Department. “The more the merrier! We as instructors can benefit from a wide range of perspectives, and students invariably learn from one another, so the wider the range of backgrounds, perspectives and skill set represented, the more they get out of the experience,” she said.