Campus / News / October 20, 2010

Not speaking the same language

The language requirement at Knox has recently been questioned by students who feel that the 101-102-103 sequence isn’t enough to master the basics of a foreign language.

“I don’t think language classes are going to teach you the language,” Knox junior Jessie Johnson said. “I hate the way they’re structured; a different structure…would be beneficial.”

Some students, like Knox freshman Ben Yoder-Henley, are enthusiastic about the prospect of adding on another year to the language requirement. “One more year would be great!” he said. He also stressed the importance of foreign languages in international business and said being fluent in another language is important in that sense.

Knox junior Christine Woodard, however, has her doubts. “For people who come here and are double-majoring, they need to take classes [related to his or her major].” Woodard, who has been taking Latin here at Knox, also stressed the challenges of learning a foreign language, especially for those who come to Knox without prior language classes and therefore must start at the 101 level.

Junior Kathy Groat, on the other hand, believes the language requirement is fine just as it is.

“I am a fan of the year-long requirement. It’s important to learn other languages because it’s a chance to travel abroad, which is an important part of education,” she said.

German professor Todd Heidt is confident that Knox’s language requirement is preparing students to do more than just communicate at a basic level—it gives students the skills they need to successfully navigate in a foreign country and give their language skills the chance to thrive amongst native speakers.

“If students were to finish 103 and travel to that country…they could get around, they could communicate. They could understand and be understood,” he said.

Heidt also feels that Knox’s foreign language department has a much deeper focus than purely mastering elementary grammatical and reading skills. In German, the 101 level class focuses on communication, with grammar and basic speaking skills as the main objectives, with a small amount of cultural studies thrown in. At the 102 and 103 levels, culture and speaking skills are more heavily emphasized.

“By the time we finish 103, at least for German, we actually have them reading short stories…so it starts to become creative writing exercises,” he said.

The cultural aspect of the language is taught beginning in 101, with students examining the history of a different city every few weeks. In 102 classes and above, the class focuses even more in-depth on “content and culture,” reading newspaper stories, online articles and viewing films.

Asked why he feels the language requirement is important, Heidt replied, “For a number of reasons…it’s good…mental acrobatics. In addition to that, I think it’s important also to just be exposed to another culture…Students are being exposed to alternate ways of looking at the world, which…is critical to the education.”

This seems to be the general consensus of the campus as well—students feel that learning a foreign language is essential not only to the liberal arts education, but to becoming well-rounded and well-informed world citizens. It seems that foreign languages at Knox are an excellent first step on the journey to increased global communication.

Allison Bader

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