Trying to Tackle the Language Problem at Fordham

The Language Department Should Re-evaluate Its Methods of Teaching and Placing Students


The depressing Language Lab, with its monotony of cubicled computers, is hardly conducive to learning a second language. Perhaps some TVs and couches would spice things up. (Ayer Chan/The Observer)

Sometimes when I’m on the fourth floor of Lowenstein and see a tour group walk past the Language Lab, I want to yell out to them that the students they see in the lab miserably typing away will be their bleak future if they choose Fordham. But I’m polite, so I refrain from doing so.

My contempt toward the Language Lab doesn’t come without reason. The reason, however, is not connected to having to take language classes. To be honest, I love learning different languages. Language enables us to communicate and creates a deeper connection between unique cultures and people of the world. I like that Fordham has an intensive language requirement. However, there is a continuing flaw in the way we are taught language.

Fordham’s language requirement is a burden about which I’ve heard many students complain. The truth is, unless a student has a deep desire to learn as many languages as possible (or at the very least, just one more), students see the language courses at Fordham as a burden to their life. And I’m pretty sure that they don’t speak the language fluently upon finishing the requirement. So what’s the dilemma? Why are students not correctly learning language through schooling at Fordham?

My question raises a lot of other questions in response. It’s a deeper problem that doesn’t just concern Fordham. There has been criticism from people who claim that America is too proud to have their students learn a different language. I don’t think this is the case; I just think we have to go about language in a different way. Fordham’s own language department could be vastly improved by changing the Language Lab on the fourth floor.

Requiring college students to sit in a room for multiple hours doing language exercises is a situation that sounds like a disaster. But it’s our reality at Fordham. I finished up my language requirement last year. Can I fluently speak Spanish? Sadly, no.

I look back at the Language Lab and realize there were so many things that could have been done with the hours I spent there. It didn’t benefit my learning experience one bit. Yet, Fordham still thinks we need to spend our time there for courses. If we didn’t have the Language Lab and instead focused on students practicing the language with other students or the professor, I think we would see improvements.

Another issue that I saw in my Spanish courses was the difference between students who wanted to learn and the students who were required to take the course. Of course, students like that exist in every class but it is more readily apparent in language courses. I took two language courses and the main reason why it’s so difficult to properly learn the language is because everyone in the class is at a different level.

I relearned a bunch of material I already knew from high school. Fordham should take it upon itself to ensure that their evaluation is fair and that each student can excel in the class. The entrance exam should be reworked and evaluated more critically. A simple number shouldn’t reflect a student’s ability to take a certain course level.

Some students may excel in reading comprehension, while others may do better when speaking the language. If the test favors those who are literate in a language but don’t speak it well, they will hold back students in their higher-level classes. Students who speak the language well but aren’t necessarily the best at writing may find themselves sleeping through their beginner-level classes.

The way the language program works now, students usually go through the first courses with ease, only to be shocked by how hard exit-level is. There should either be a harder and more thorough entrance exam or the people administrating the placements should be more critical and careful with their evaluations.

Students’ interest in language should also be taken into account. Maybe some students who don’t have any desire to learn a language should only have to take two regular-level courses. Maybe they shouldn’t be forced to take an exit level course. There should definitely be a way to separate the students who are serious about learning the language from the ones who just want to get the requirement out of the way.

We should also petition to make the Language Lab into something more conducive to learning. Perhaps it could offer more than just computers. I know if it was transformed into a lounge with couches and televisions that have channels with different languages, I might be more inclined to visit. Maybe my thoughts are just wishful thinking, but the problems are plain to see.