Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Opinion | The death of language programs is the death of human connection

CW / Natalie Teat
B.B. Comer Hall houses the Department of Languages and Classics.

As college students, we have to take way too many useless general education courses that have nothing to do with our degree. While I could rant for hours about my qualms with criteria in the institution of higher education, I won’t waste your time.

Getting a bachelor’s degree at the Capstone requires that students take either foreign language or digital literacy classes to fulfill general-education requirements. Many students, especially STEM majors, automatically opt for the digital literacy option.

Of course, a self-proclaimed lucky few have these credits covered by International Baccalaureate, Advanced Placement or dual enrollment courses from highschool. The majority of the student body, however, is sentenced to serve a semester or two learning about a subject we would otherwise wholly disregard. 

It’s frustrating for students who have to learn and unlearn material they don’t care about, and it’s frustrating for educators to teach said students. Odds are, a scant few communications majors are planning on studying geology. The rest will grow up to tell their kids that it was a useless class, but we all have to go through these supposedly useless classes as part of our rite of passage.

The reality is that if a student really wanted to learn something from their gen-eds, they would elect to take it on their own as a field of study or an elective. Plus, now they have the whole internet at their disposal.

Suffice to say, students have access to an unprecedented amount of information about the world and how it functions thanks to the internet. And physical libraries if you’re into that “Good Will Hunting” lifestyle.

But languages are a whole different story.

Foreign languages are often lumped in with digital literacy as an option to fulfill one of the seemingly arbitrary aforementioned mandatory classes. 

This is inane. Studying baseline digital literacy in the digital age is futile, while learning foreign languages is more useful than ever.

Our generation is plenty digitally fluent. Accessibility to internet resources is at an all time high. We grew up playing with our parents’ iPads and taking computer classes almost every year. YouTube and internet tutorials render the need for classes on the use of Adobe products, Microsoft Office, spreadsheets and so on obsolete. The average person has had so much exposure to technology that it’s practically a given that they know how to use it. 

But in this digital age, it’s scarily easy for us to lose touch with our humanity. 

While technology has its advantages, we are losing interpersonal skills by the second. People have lost the ability to communicate, something fundamental to our humanity.

We need communication. We need language.

My earlier statement about learning off the internet simply does not apply to foreign languages as it does to a computer class. Learning a foreign language on Duolingo, or what have you, will never be as effective as learning in an immersive classroom environment.

Still, the United States is one of the few nations that does not universally mandate that its citizens learn an additional language in primary or secondary school.

Basically every country in Europe requires students to start learning a second language between 6 and 9 years old, according to the Pew Research Center. More than 20 European countries require students to study a third language as well.

But in the United States, the overwhelming majority of residents report they only speak English.

Considering that the U.S. does not have an official language, it’s bizarre that we are so remiss about this matter. According to the CIA World Factbook, English is the most spoken language in the world, followed by Mandarin Chinese, Hindi and Spanish.

Spanish is the second-most spoken language in the United States, with over 42 million residents above 5 years of age speaking Spanish at home.

So, being able to speak multiple languages is an objectively useful skill that affects our country. Our nation prides itself on being founded upon immigration, being a cultural melting pot.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t believe that people can fully benefit from the richness of American culture if they can only speak English.

Granted, I’ve taken Spanish since I was in preschool, and I’m studying it here, but that doesn’t mean I’m not right. 

Kelley Luna, an instructor in the Spanish department here at the University and the educator responsible for my decision to change my Spanish minor to a major, said it best:

Learning a language goes beyond academic achievement — it’s about bridging gaps and connecting with those you would otherwise never understand. Through languages, we can better appreciate the nuances of cultures, broaden our minds, and transform the lens through which we view the world. Language learning helps us embrace and celebrate the uniqueness of every culture and every individual.” 

Language is the basis of human communication. That’s irrefutable.

Communication is the cornerstone to connecting and making meaningful and good change in the world. 

Schools like West Virginia University made plans to cut out their entire language department, a decision I hope and pray the Capstone never considers. In my opinion, if anything, our foreign language department, as great as it is, needs more funding. 

And not just because B.B. Comer Hall has some sketchy air conditioning. The more options our program has and the more it makes itself known, the more likely it is that students will be aware of, interested in, and willing to join the program.

Considering the social impact that goes beyond the many well-known benefits to our brain development and thought processes through speaking multiple languages, it seems obvious to me that anyone can and will benefit from taking a foreign language.

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