Foreign language programs may face setbacks if changes to the foreign language requirement in the proposed Trinity College of Arts and Sciences curriculum are approved.
Although the newest Trinity curriculum proposal has reinstated the foreign language requirement, it limits this requirement to only one semester. The current policy mandates between one and three courses depending on the student's language abilities. This switch could be detrimental to Duke's smaller language programs, said Luciana Fellin, associate professor of the practice of Italian and linguistics and director of the Italian language program.
“Less commonly taught languages—not the big languages—are really going to suffer,” she said.
Fellin explained that the proposed reduction to the foreign language requirement would cause students to default to languages they have already learned.
“What is probably going to happen is that people are not going to engage [and] invest in discovering a new [language],” she said.
Ingeborg Walther, the director of the German language program and a member of the Imagining the Duke Curriculum committee, noted in an email that enrollment in German language courses would “most certainly decline” if the proposal were approved.
“I’ve spoken to many students in our language program, most of whom say that while they are glad they took German at least through the intermediate level, they likely would not have done this had they not been required to do so,” Walther wrote.
In addition to Walther, Hae-Young Kim, professor of the practice in the department of Asian and Middle Eastern studies and the director of the Korean language program, also said the change to the foreign language requirement would lower enrollment in Korean courses.
“We will lose a lot of students if there’s no requirement,” Kim said. “My projection is that we will lose about 40 to 50 percent of the current enrollment, and even more than that.”
Kim expressed that she was “deeply concerned” about the proposed changes, referring to the one semester requirement as “inadequate.” Fellin was also concerned that students would not be able to gain “cultural literacy” from only one semester of a language.
“Although the intent of the curricular proposal is to encourage students to follow up with their foreign language study through further coursework at Duke and/or abroad, I don’t think a lot of students will actually do this, unless they are required to do so,” Walther added.
Walther has previously said that many students at Duke already speak multiple languages.
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“We are getting students coming to Duke now who are more diverse than ever. We have more international students, students from various backgrounds and minority students,” she said at December’s Arts and Sciences Council meeting. “We are trying to take into account designing structures for students to meet them where they are when they come in.”
Despite professors’ concerns, first-year Vivian Chen indicated that the proposed requirement would “make life a lot easier” for her and other students on the pre-health track.
“It would really lighten the work load for people who need to take three semesters [of a language],” she said.
However, Chen also said that she recognized the benefit of speaking another language, noting that the change could be “detrimental” to students who did not have the opportunity to learn a foreign language in high school.
“I think nowadays it’s almost expected that you speak another language in certain professions,” she added.
The Arts and Science Council has postponed the vote on the proposed curriculum until Fall 2017.