Kansas needs multilingual college graduates




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The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Wichita State University is currently engaged in a debate on whether to reduce the number of language courses students must take to earn a bachelor’s degree in fields like the sciences. politics, history or English. The impetus behind some departments’ interest in reducing language requirements is that students want to be able to graduate as quickly as possible.

Recently a colleague pointed out to me that basic language courses (the first three semesters, currently required for a Bachelor of Arts in most areas in LAS), are essentially remedial, as they are only needed for students who have not studied languages ​​throughout K-12 Education. Unfortunately, most Kansas students don’t start taking language classes until high school, and second language learners who complete four years of a high school language may or may not test a first semester course in that language at Wichita State.

In a state with a 12% Hispanic population, with three counties where Latinos are the majority, there is a growing need for college graduates with skills in Spanish and other languages ​​- such as Vietnamese, Arabic, and Arabic. mandarin – in a wide range of fields.

Take political science majors, for example: unilingual political leaders are unable to communicate with a large percentage of their constituents, lawyers have difficulty representing the point of view of clients whose languages ​​they do not speak, and unilingual journalists are limited in their ability to represent voices. from potential sources. Many NGOs likely to hire graduate political science students would prefer their staff and administrators to be bilingual.

When children and young adults do not have the skills they need to include multilingual voices in their future work, an injustice is done to the state’s diverse communities. In addition, the intercultural understanding gained through the study of world languages ​​is fundamental for productive communication in our culturally diverse nation.

While the United States is highly multilingual and multicultural, language education policies are often based on monolingual ideologies, belief systems that primarily value proficiency in the nation’s dominant language and downgrade proficiency in other languages. Liberal arts and science students who do not want to study a language are likely influenced by the very monolingual ideologies that challenge language teaching. In order to be able to serve their communities fairly, these ideologies must be challenged.

While Wichita State University plays an important role in developing multilingual college graduates, the process needs to start much earlier than college. Language lessons should be compulsory from kindergarten onwards and, if possible, pupils who start school with skills in languages ​​other than English should benefit from programs that allow them to develop their skills in those languages. This happens in bilingual immersion programs like Wichita’s Horace Mann Dual Language Magnet, where some of the subject matter courses are taught in Spanish and students learn the academic content while simultaneously developing their language skills.

Students who study a language throughout Kindergarten through Grade 12 (or better yet take a bilingual education program) easily test the language sequence starting at Wichita State.

When students who have already developed literacy skills in an additional language attend the state of Wichita or another institution of higher learning in Kansas, they bring with them a foundation on which to develop the skills they need to communicate with. Kansans of various linguistic origins in personal and professional contexts. . Intermediate language courses offer the opportunity to develop these skills.

Once students have completed or tested the start language sequence, they can decide whether they wish to continue their study of the language. However, those who have not reached an intermediate level of proficiency in a language other than English in K-12 should be required to complete the basic language sequence at university to prepare them to contribute to a larger society. in addition multilingual and multicultural.

Rachel Showstack is Professor at Wichita State University


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