If the Committee on Yale College Education implements its recommendations successfully, students may have a reduced language requirement and more flexibility with study abroad opportunities. While most professors acknowledged that students could benefit from these proposed changes, some speculated that less classroom instruction may ultimately hurt students’ foreign language education.
For students starting language study at Yale, the committee recommended reducing the language requirement from four semesters to three — something professors said may shortchange students’ education. In addition, the report said that even if students enter Yale with a high level of proficiency in a foreign language, they must still take one semester of study that improves language skills.
In a departure from the current policy, students would also have the option of fulfilling the language requirement with two semesters of study at Yale and an approved summer study or internship program in a foreign language-speaking country. In order to relieve the financial burden on students, the committee recommended devoting more funds to helping students pay for opportunities abroad. Students and professors said this institutional support may spark change in students’ perceptions of study abroad as a viable option.
In its report, the academic review committee said one of its goals was to ensure that students “travel some further distance” in their foreign language studies, rather than requiring all students to reach a fixed level of proficiency.
Even if students enter Yale with a high level of foreign language skills, Spanish Language Director Maria Crocetti said, requiring students to take another semester would ensure they do not forget that language. She said this is critical, especially in the current era of increased globalization, when language study is even more important.
French professor Christopher L. Miller also said he was enthusiastic about the change in philosophy, moving from students placing out of language study to students placing into more advanced classes. But he questioned the idea of reducing the requirements for students who start language study at Yale.
Diana Lin ’04, who is in her fourth semester of language study at Yale, said that while a reduction in the requirement may be more convenient for students, it would be better for students to complete their full second year of language study.
Spanish Director of Undergraduate Studies Noel Valis said she was not in favor of the one-semester decrease because it might shortchange students’ Yale education.
“Language study takes time,” Valis said. “There are no shortcuts.”
Valis said she thought it was educationally questionable whether condensing the intermediate year into one semester would result in the same level of proficiency.
Emily Johnson ’05, who took intermediate French at Yale after testing out of the introductory level, said she thought decreasing the language requirement would be a good idea. But Johnson said she thought the academic review failed to adequately articulate what the goal of language education is.
‘A change in Yale culture’
While there was much support for the proposed increase in academic and financial incentives to study abroad, some professors said they thought study abroad would be most educationally valuable after a student had sufficient classroom experience.
“Students need much more exposure to the language [than one year] to really take advantage of time abroad,” Crocetti said.
While Valis said she thought everyone in the department supported the idea of students studying abroad, she said many programs abroad require students to have at least two years of language study so they are better prepared.
But International Studies Director of Undergraduate Studies James Vreeland said studying in a foreign country is the best way for a student to learn a language.
“I think that the only way for someone to learn a language is by immersion,” Vreeland said.
While study abroad currently exists as an option at Yale, most students do not take advantage of it because of academic, financial or extracurricular hindrances. Gustav Ranis, the director of the Yale Center for International and Area Studies, said increasing student funding and allowing students to satisfy their language requirements abroad would be good steps in making study abroad a more integral part of Yale culture.
“There used to be a bias against [study abroad] — ‘You have to be here four years to be a Yalie,'” Ranis said.
Lin said she considered studying abroad, but eventually decided not to after her friends pointed out the short amount of time she had at Yale. But Lin said if study abroad were a larger part of Yale’s undergraduate culture, she probably would have gone.
Jane Kang ’04, who studied abroad during the summer, said she thought that if Yale offered greater financial support more students would go abroad during the summer, allowing them to still spend all eight semesters at Yale.