By Canton Winer
If Fordham’s foreign language requirement worked, I would be able to write this column in Spanish.
As it is, I can barely ask where the bathroom is in Spanish, much less write a coherent sentence.
I completely understand the motivation behind a language requirement—and I’m infinitely jealous of my polyglot friends—but let’s be real: Fordham’s foreign language requirement is a waste of time.
The average Fordham student spends around 150 hours in foreign language classes before being dubbed “proficient.” That’s 150 hours that could have been spent doing something much more productive.
The opportunity cost of the language requirement is enormous. If you take all four language courses (assuming a typical course-load of five courses per semester your freshman and sophomore years and four courses per semester your junior and senior years,) then fully 11 percent of your course-load was spent on foreign language classes.
Spending 11 percent of courses on material that most students will never master and few will continue to use simply doesn’t make sense. Those courses could instead be spent on another philosophy, English, cultural studies or service-learning class. Departments could begin asking students to take one more class to fulfill their major requirements, making students far more adept in their academic home fields.
Furthermore, the foreign language requirement degrades the quality of the foreign language departments by forcing them to divert the vast majority of their resources to students fulfilling Fordham’s core instead of to students who actually choose to major or minor in a foreign language.
Students majoring or minoring in French or Spanish, for example, are extremely limited in the advanced-level courses they can take, since the resources of the department are swallowed up by Fordham’s language requirement.
In fairness, I understand the argument that learning a second language expands the way you think. But, if you aren’t actually learning a second language, then your mind isn’t expanding. I loved my Spanish professors, but Spanish class was the most mind-numbing—not mind-expanding—two and a half hours of my week every semester of my freshman and sophomore years.
At around eight years old, children’s language acquisition skills are significantly degraded. By the time most people are 16, they will never be able to fully acquire a second language. The human mind is not suited to learning a new language after 18 years of wear and tear.
College is simply too late to begin learning a new language—and the classroom is hardly the best place for language acquisition anyway. Let’s stop kidding ourselves and cut the foreign language requirement.