Campus / News / November 2, 2011

Professors hold language roundtable

In a world where English is the dominant language, the question remains as to whether it is pointless to learn another. To discuss teaching second languages, Visiting Assistant Professor of Modern Languages (German) Todd Heidt brought together a group of language professors, proudly touting that he had collected “five teachers from four continents.”

Other than Heidt, the professors in attendance were Associate Professor of Asian Studies (Japanese) Ryohei Matsuda, Visiting Professor (German) Monika Budde, Professor of Modern Languages (French) Caesar Akuetey, Classics Professor Stephen Fineberg and Assistant Professor of Modern Languages (Spanish) Claudia Fernandez.

Fernandez began the discussion by claiming that many students take Spanish because it is a relevant language today, as the United States becomes increasingly Spanish-speaking and Latin and South America gain a world presence.

She also pointed out that there are “other benefits to exercise than losing weight,” meaning that learning a foreign language helps people in other ways than communication, her example being that learning another language allows one to see similarities between cultures, which may make people less likely to kill one another.

Heidt echoed this sentiment with the idea that learning new languages is a form of mental acrobatics that aids in enhancing the mind, as language students must learn languages beyond transliteration, with the need for learning context.

Budde, the quietest speaker, described how the question of why learning another language never really comes up in German schools. Because of the plethora of European languages available, it is only reasonable to learn several of them.

The remaining professors, Akuetey and Fineberg, dominated much of the rest of the night. Akuetey, between telling everyone present to take French and go to Besançon, described how one learns English better by taking a foreign language, as it forces an introspective look at definitions and grammar.

Fineberg, teacher of dead languages, wondered why he was included in the discussion at all because his languages are not useful anywhere. After recounting how many parents become angry with him for persuading their children to take a dead language, he decided — with outspoken support from Akuetey — that the dead languages are important because of the impact they have on the languages of today.

All in all, Heidt felt as thoughtthe discussion was successful, a positive self-evaluation to the importance of learning language. He went on to say that guest scholars — like Budde, who is here on an exchange program with the University of Flensburg — are particularly important because of the new view they can bring to the discussion. The cultural exchange is invaluable to a collegiate environment.

Among the students in attendance, opinions — though mixed — were relatively positive.

Freshman Elizabeth Scray echoed Heidt’s point that teaching foreign languages is necessary for a well-rounded education. The perspectives learning another language give to the student are irreplaceable.

Senior Dustin Jones was not entirely impressed, as he had expected the discussion to be more focused on how to actually teach foreign languages, as opposed to their importance, though he did find the talk interesting.

Senior Katelynn Schlaman saw the talk as “well-intended” but not well-focused with the constant tangents the professors seemed to go on.

While the professors seemed to have a good time, it appeared as though the audience needed a little more focus. But, c’est la vie, n’est pas?

Ian Malone

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