Department of world languages provides 'variety of options' to multilingual students
Published: Monday, October 14, 2013
Updated: Monday, October 14, 2013 18:10
For many students, foreign language requirements form just another block on their degree plan. But what about those students who already speak a second language? Do requirements for their major trump existing language experience?
Not always, said Yvonne Unnold, chair of the department of world languages and cultures, which offers coursework in Spanish, French and German.
“We have a variety of options to suit every student’s needs,” Unnold said.
A student may be extremely proficient in a language other than English, yet simply lack college credit hours demonstrating their capabilities.
However, it is possible for a multilingual student to be recognized for their language proficiencies without retaking coursework for which they are already qualified.
According to information released by the department of world languages and cultures, students may qualify for a language requirement exemption or college coursework equivalency if, in addition to speaking fluent English:
They are fluent in a widely spoken language, as opposed to a local, demographically specific language
They can produce satisfactory evidence that they have previously completed university-level coursework in their alternate language, and
Their major requirement checklist does not mandate coursework in a specific language different from their existing language experience.
Second language requirements are highly individualized across different disciplines, Unnold said, and students should always confer with their academic advisors when evaluating language requirements.
These guidelines for requirement waivers could be especially helpful for international or exchange students, for whom English is often already a second language.
Wenyi Li, a senior from China, was able to demonstrate satisfactory mastery of his native language to be exempt from additional language course requirements for his major, mathematics.
“I was the first international student in this major, so the director had to ask (about language requirements),” Li said.
Li worked with the director of the mathematics department and his academic advisor in ensuring his language requirements would be met.
Li’s extra hours will go back to his general education and elective options. He plans to use the extra time to take courses in history and political science.
Unnold stressed that students do not have to be international in order to qualify for language credit.
“I call them multilingual students; it doesn’t matter if they come from abroad,” Unnold said. “The bottom line is: they speak more than one language.”
The College Level Examination Program (CLEP) provides a neutral testing basis from which to evaluate students’ existing language skills in Spanish, French, or German.
German Vasquez, a sophomore radiology major of Santa Rosa, Texas, took advantage of the CLEP opportunity. Vasquez was able to bypass several Elementary and Intermediate Spanish courses, nearly all the way to Advanced.
“I really saved myself some time there. Dr. Unnold came to my Making Connections class and encouraged me to take it,” Vasquez said.
As a native of a Texas town bordering Mexico, Vasquez had expensive Spanish experience outside of academia. His parents spoke Spanish, but his schoolwork was taught in English.
Vasquez plans to enroll in upper-level Spanish courses to improve his formal language skills in addition to his conversational abilities.
“I may just end up minoring in Spanish,” Vasquez said. “I really do want to strengthen my Spanish and make it stronger.”
Even students who are already proficient in a second language can benefit from additional language education, according to Unnold.
“We are preparing professionals, we are not preparing secondary or elementary school kids,” Unnold said.
Sayumi Tamada, a senior marketing major of Ise, Japan, voluntarily took courses in Mandarin Chinese while it was still offered by the university to supplement her existing language skills in Japanese and English.
Though Tamada was not required to take the Chinese courses, she feels the additional nine credit hours enhanced her ability to communicate with people across a wider language spectrum.
“Compared to American people, I think it was easier for me to learn Chinese,” Tamada said.
While she does not feel completely fluent in either of her additional languages, English or Chinese, Tamada hopes having nearly trilingual experience will help her achieve her dream job of working in publishing.
She plans to return to Japan following her graduation this spring.
Unnold said of the language department, “We want to give students skills that will truly make a difference.”
Any of the three languages offered by the department, Spanish, French or German, can help contribute to a balanced education.
Vasquez said of Spanish, “I think it is very important (to learn) because nowadays you see more Hispanics here every day. It opens you up to a world of different cultures.”
Multilingual skills are continuing to increase in importance as world business becomes more globalized and international communication becomes more common.
Unnold said students should begin their foreign language studies as early in their academic careers as possible, as most majors indicate language coursework should be completed within the first two years of study.
The world languages and cultures department offers a free online placement exam available through their website, http://languages.astate.edu.
The placement exam allows language students to be placed in a course corresponding to their current skill level.
Tamada, speaking from a different angle on foreign language education, said, “If American people can speak multiple languages, then Japanese people are not needed in America. So I hope Americans speak only one language.”