Tulane must improve foreign language requirements

Kevin Young, Staff Writer

This is an opinion article and does not necessarily reflect the views of The Tulane Hullabaloo. 

Tulane University is one of the most geographically diverse institutions in the United States, attracting students from all over the country and world. Likewise, Tulane has substantive course offerings in many foreign languages from all over the world such as Arabic, Mandarin Chinese, Hebrew, Russian and Japanese. There are even occasional courses on less-commonly-taught languages like Turkish, Haitian and Vietnamese. Nevertheless, Tulane’s graduation requirements in foreign languages are confusing, burdensome and unnecessary.

As part of the core curriculum, Tulane students generally must take at least two semesters of a foreign language to graduate. Some exceptions exist, such as engineering students needing only one semester and liberal arts students needing three. These rules make no sense, and the Newcomb-Tulane College should revise them. A student is not going to gain a meaningful understanding of any language in one semester. With this in mind, the School of Science and Engineering should consider scrapping that requirement entirely for engineering students.

At the same time, the requirement for liberal arts students is lacking. Americans are one of the few groups of people in the world who do not grow up bilingual, so they should learn one as they become older and become multilingual like 56 percent of the world. Tulane is an internationally-competitive university, yet its students walk away with little knowledge of a foreign language after three semesters of language classes.

To fix this, all Tulane students should be required to obtain at least a B2 proficiency level, as defined by the Common European Framework for Reference of Languages in two languages (one of which may be English) before graduating. The specific courses a student takes should be irrelevant, since professors often just “push” students through the third semester of a language, and they end up learning little. The same would happen if the requirement changed to five semesters. Likewise, if students manage to become fluent in a language after just one class, then they should not be required to complete more language credits.

Some departments also do not allow students to have foreign language classes count towards a major or minor if those classes count toward core curriculum requirements. This exception does not make sense. The Department of Philosophy counts Elementary Symbolic Logic towards the Philosophy major, regardless of whether the class is being used to fulfill core curriculum requirements. Most departments work this way.

At Tulane, students are fortunate enough to spend their four-year undergraduate experience meeting many new people from various walks of life in New Orleans, a city that has been governed by many countries over time. Tulane needs to update its foreign language requirements to reflect better the modern, global world of the 21st century which the school attempts to emulate through its student body.

Kevin Young is a student at Newcomb-Tulane College and can be reached at [email protected]