Foreign Language and “General Education” Requirements

Yesterday I was invited to participate in a workshop for language faculty at St. Edwards University here in Austin, Texas.  We had an enjoyable discussion and talked about foreign language education and how it fits into our educational system. My take is that in US universities we teach foreign language as if all students were preparing to be language experts and future majors.  The problem is that the majority of our students in beginning classes are not going to major in foreign languages and language expertise is not one of their goals.  A few years ago I surveyed some of our UT students.

UT’s first Upper Division Course for Spanish Majors:  86% of the students had fulfilled the prerequisite through credit by exam (not all 4 semester, but 86% had tested out of at least one semester).  82% of the students enrolled in this course planned on taking more Spanish courses.

UT’s last Lower Division Course for General Education: 46% of the students had fulfilled the prerequisite through credit by exam.  38% of these students planned on taking more Spanish courses.

In other words, our methodology and how we teach our beginning foreign language classes may never affect 86% of these students in our advanced classes.  And, most of the students in our general education classes will not take any more classes after they fulfill the requirement.

It begs the question:  Why do we teach general education language courses as if all students are going to continue to become language “experts”?

Our discussion at St. Edwards focused on how we could include more of the cultural aspects of language learning (more scripts as seen from schema theory–see my previous posts) if we weren’t so concerned about treating everyone as if they were going to be future foreign language majors.

Thanks St. Edwards, I enjoyed our discussion a lot.

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