The Weekly Ringer

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

Language should be studied for passion, not prerequisite

3 min read

Sarah Sklar / The Blue and Gray Press


Staff Writer

At UMW, learning a foreign language shouldn’t be required. It should be optional.

Among Virginia universities, and even across the nation, foreign language requirements are not widely required in the college curriculum anymore. It’s understandable that UMW wants students to be versed in other languages. There are benefits to being bilingual, such as immersing oneself into different cultures and even at the workplace. However, asking students to take four courses to be able to graduate is too much.

UMW has already decided to change the requirements for the beginning of the fall 2020 year to better suit students by requiring students to only show competency through level 201. UMW academic services declined to comment on the matter of the foreign language graduation requirements, but UMW faculty will be meeting this fall semester to discuss changes to the foreign language requirement as well as other graduation requirements.

Freshman Eden Shenal, a prospective English major, studies for her Spanish Conversation and Grammar class. | Photo provided by Sarah Sklar from The Blue and Gray Press

This change is a good sign that the university is heading in the right direction, but it doesn’t make a difference for students who are currently required to take them.

The foreign language requirement is unpopular among students currently attending UMW including senior Phillip Manceri who learned Spanish outside a classroom setting and struggles within it.

“I’ve learned and spoke Spanish my whole life, to come here and have to take the class makes no sense especially since I ended up doing poorly in it,” said Manceri.  

Much like Manceri, some students struggle in their language courses, the dreaded class leaving its mark on transcripts and GPAs. Moreover, there is also the issue of retaining the information.  If someone already has anxiety toward learning a language, or complete disinterest, they are much less likely to retain the content.

If people don’t constantly use a language or study it, they will forget. Often it is nearly impossible to schedule all four classes consecutively, the summer or two-semester gap increasing the difficulty. In my opinion, if someone doesn’t intend to continue further in their studies, why learn it in the first place?

It’s also a heavy workload. Learning a language can be beneficial if someone will be doing business overseas or with foreign companies. However, in many other fields this knowledge just isn’t needed. In my opinion, having students learn a language that will never be used is like buying a house but never living in it. If it’s not used, it’s a waste of time and money.

Advancements in technology have also made learning a foreign language unnecessary since everyone can use a smartphone to communicate with one another and devices can translate in real time.

It is better to allow students to choose elective classes that will benefit them more since UMW offers a plethora of diverse classes that people already struggle to fit into four years. Students should be allowed to fill their busy schedules with courses that interest them, instead of learning basic Spanish or French.

However, the student experience, and certainly a liberal arts college experience, is hindered by UMW requiring students to take a language. UMW offering so many languages is not a bad thing, but UMW requiring students to take one, is.

Schools like Virginia Commonwealth University don’t require students to take two years of language. Old Dominion University and Virginia Tech are other Virginia universities that fall on the list.

UMW is a great school, but it’s not great that they force foreign languages onto people. That is something that should be changed not just for future students but current students as well. College is a time for people to explore new ideas and beliefs and to grow. Forcing students to take classes they have no interest in is a waste of their time.

While UMW may be trying to meet students in the middle with their new language requirement, they need to just do away with it all together.