West Virginia University strives to create a curriculum that allows students to receive the most from their education. Required classes at WVU give Mountaineers the ability to broaden their interests by exposing them to a multitude of subjects through current general education requirements. However, as the United States grows more multicultural, there is something in which WVU is falling behind: Breaking the language barrier.
If WVU wants to produce students who are well-equipped to survive in a more globalized professional world, all students should be required to take four semesters of a foreign language, regardless of their major.
The University’s current General Education Curriculum requires all students to complete basic courses before graduation in subjects such as English, science, history and math. Though the GEC system will transition to the General Education Foundations system in the 2016-17 academic year, the current GEC 4 ("Contemporary Society") has class options that allow students to learn a second language by taking elementary or intermediate classes in languages like Chinese, French, Italian or Japanese. However, there are a handful of other classes students may take in place of a foreign language to also fulfill the requirement. The GEC 4 simply does not offer enough exposure to learning a second language, and the GEF equivalent only gives students even more course options to choose instead of a foreign language. By being aware of the struggles that come with learning the grammar rules and pronunciations of different global tongues, students would likely become more thoughtful and have more respect for their foreign English-speaking peers.
According to WVU’s International Students website, more than 2,000 international students attend WVU from more than 110 countries. These individuals arrive knowing that in order to flourish and succeed in their classes, they need to communicate primarily in English. WVU should not expect this from international students while allowing primary English-speaking students to breeze by in their education without undergoing the same trials of learning a new language. Not all solely English-speaking students understand how much effort communicating in an unfamiliar language can take, and requiring all students to take a language course would mean slowly breaking down language barriers and creating more cultured students.
In Europe especially, learning a second language is as necessary as learning mathematics. According to a 2015 Pew Research Center study about which countries make learning second languages mandatory, countries such as Portugal, Italy, Finland, Austria and Poland require all students to learn a foreign language to mastery. Why is the United States seemingly the only country not concerned with creating more worldly scholars?
It’s widely known that learning a second language is much easier for younger children than adolescents and young adults, so why do American schools save teaching a foreign language until middle or high school? As a kindergartener in West Virginia, I remember learning how to count to 10 in Spanish. However, that was the extent of my Spanish education in elementary school. It would have been very beneficial for me to have received lessons in conversational Spanish or another language throughout grade school. The United States should reach the same level of education as other countries in this area, as being fluent in another language means being able to communicate with a larger number of people in more effective ways.
Being bilingual also helps individuals when applying for jobs. Research performed by Rosetta Stone, the developers of language-learning software, shows that people who speak a second language have an income of at least $10,000 more than a person who only speaks English. Another survey from Los Angeles-based recruiter Korn/Ferry International found that nearly nine out of 10 headhunters reported that speaking a second language is critical for success in today’s business environment.
WVU should be the frontrunner of a change in foreign language education. It is not too late to develop a graduating class full of worldly, cultured, well-rounded individuals. As a member of the Mountaineer family, I not only want this for myself, but for all future Mountaineers as well. It is time we catch up with the rest of the world and start breaking down the language barrier at WVU, one bilingual student at a time.