This past week, the University announced it was eliminating introductory Spanish classes and putting them entirely online. Although the university recognizes that students taking a foreign language online will not have an opportunity to speak the language and therefore will not learn it, they justify the move by pointing to the much lower cost of online courses. If the program is successful, they say that other Romance languages might follow.
UNC’s romance language courses have never been strong, and they exist primarily to allow students to fulfill their foreign language requirements. The university offers other, more rigorous language programs such as German or Arabic which contain motivated students who actually want to study the language. However, rather than increase the quality of its romance language programs in a time of severe budget cuts, they are cutting their quality to the bare minimum needed for students to pass their general education requirements.
In America, students don’t learn a foreign language in the classroom. Instead, they learn how to take language tests. With this move towards online courses, the University is virtually conceding this point. Rather than try to improve the scope of the course with more emphasis on learning and less on testing, language courses are now focusing entirely on getting students to pass language tests.
What this really means is that the University is giving up on foreign language education. If that is the case, then the University should also drop the foreign language requirement from its general education curriculum rather than force students to take worthless subpar online courses that are a waste of everyone’s time. The foreign language requirement is already weak. No one will attain fluency by a level 3 language course, and fluency cannot be taught in a classroom, so students are being forced to learn half a language just to check off a box marked “FL level 3” on their academic worksheets. Now, they aren’t even going to be learning half a language or getting the opportunity to stumble through speaking that language regularly in the classroom.
Good language programs could continue to be maintained for majors and as electives for students who wish to learn a language, but requiring all students to take foreign language classes is quickly become a waste of everybody’s time and energy.