YCC pushes language certificates

After a proposal for academic minors was voted down by the faculty last year, YCC President Jeff Gordon ’12 said the YCC is working on a more nuanced proposal to allow students to earn language certificates.

The YCC plans to submit bullet points of their eventual report to administrators this month recommending that the University adopt language certificates, Gordon said, though they will not have a full report on the subject until January. To qualify for certificates ­— which are offered at every Ivy League school other than Yale and Brown — the YCC is recommending that students would need to take four to six credits in their chosen language and complete a culminating project, Gordon said, though each department would have some freedom to design its own requirements.

“[Language certificates would] allow students a way to engage a language seriously and study it to a level of mastery without devoting [so many] credits to it as a major,” Gordon said.

When it finishes its first set of bullet points, the YCC will send them not only to Yale College Dean Mary Miller and Dean of Undergraduate Education Joseph Gordon GRD ’78, but also to the newly formed Language Study Committee. Committee chair Steven Fraade said his group’s primary charge this year is to review the changes to Yale’s language programs that were part of an overhaul of distributional requirements in 2005, based on the Committee on Yale College Education recommendations from 2003. The committee is discussing language certificates, Fraade said, but is not obligated to include them in its final report, which is due Nov. 19.

Nelleke Van Deusen-Scholl, convener of the language study committee, said that she has sent all language departments a survey that includes a section about language certificates, but she does not yet have enough data to determine interest. Tuesday the YCC sent a survey of its own to the student body to learn when and why students stop taking courses in their languages, and Van Deusen-Scholl said the results should help her committee better understand the feelings of students.

Gordon said the YCC’s forward-looking report will supplement the Language Study Committee’s analysis of the past.

Some students take only the minimum number of language courses required for graduation, Gordon said, a fact he said he finds troubling.

“Language classes are vastly underutilized at Yale, probably the most underutilized part of our academic spectrum,” he said.

But Senior Lector in French Ruth Koizim GRD ’77 said awarding certificates would diminish the validity of language programs, though she said she could not speak on behalf of the whole French department. Koizim said certificates might be appropriate for “trapeze,” but not for the study of a language.

“I don’t think that this is something that would set us apart in a positive way,” she said. “It’s just a piece of paper.”

Koizim added that language certificates might make sense in some departments more than others. A good number of students take French courses regardless of their major, she said, but other departments might need to “sweeten the deal.”

Stathis Kalyvas, co-director of the Hellenic Studies program, said he would welcome a system that brought more students to learn Greek.

Joseph Gordon said he thinks it would be challenging to design consistent certificate regulations across different language departments. But he said he does not think the proposed program would require any additional resources.

At Princeton, language departments determine their own requirements. To earn a certificate in Spanish, students must take four courses at 300-level or higher, some of which can be taken abroad, and must write a senior paper.

Antonio Calvo, a Spanish professor at Princeton, said language certificates encourage students to seriously explore subjects outside their major.

“I think [this] is a great opportunity for the students to expand their academic and intellectual horizons with deeper knowledge of areas that are sometimes remote from the topic of their senior theses,” he said in an e-mail.

Four of five Yale students interviewed thought language certificates would be a good addition to the curriculum, though one said he thought certificates are just resume-builders, and have no substance.

Elizabeth Chrystal ’13 said she liked that language certificates would reward students for their efforts.

“You’re taking classes in pursuit of a goal,” she said. “If it’s not going to be for anything it feels like a waste.”

Under the current distribution requirements, students must take up to three terms of a foreign language depending on their language study prior to college and their score on a placement test.

Comments