Foreign languages up at Kent despite state, national trend

The Kent Stater Editors

Editor’s note: A version of this story published Monday incorrectly described Kent State’s foreign language enrollment, and the printed edition didn’t include its conclusion. The corrected story appears below.

While nationally students are taking fewer foreign language courses in recent years, Kent State’s enrollment in those classes has increased by more than 25 percent over the last two years.

According to the Modern Language Association of America’s 2015 survey report, there has been a recent overall decline in U.S. students taking foreign language classes in college.

The MLA’s survey states that more than one million students were enrolled in a foreign language course in 1995, excluding Latin and Ancient Greek. That number continued to increase to its peak of 1.6 million students in 2009, and then suddenly declined to 1.5 million students in 2013.

At Kent State, students enrolled in foreign language courses jumped from 2,528 in fall of 2013 to 3,178 in fall of 2015.

In addition, Kent State’s Department of Modern and Classical Language Studies, courses offered in foreign languages have increased to 189 in Fall 2015 from 178 in Fall 2013. 

Kristin Stasiowski, director of international programs and education abroad for the College of Arts and Sciences, said she has seen an increase in the number of students interested in education abroad opportunities this semester.

“More and more students are seeing just how important study abroad is to their overall educational and professional goals,” Stasiowski said. 

Although most of these study abroad students only speak English, Stasiowski believes that every student should be required to take a foreign language.

“Speaking a foreign language is a very unique and wonderful skill,” she said. “We would be harming our graduates if we are unable to require of them that they graduate with comparable skills when joining the workforce.”

Erin O’Leary, a senior fashion design major currently studying abroad in Italy, said she agrees that students should be required to take a foreign language after her own study abroad experiences have made it hard to communicate with native Italians.

“The only Italian I knew (when I arrived) was ‘grazie,’ ‘ciao’ and ‘per favore,’ so things were a little bit difficult,” she said.

O’Leary did not take an Italian class before studying abroad because she “figured we were supposed to (take an Italian class) here, which is stupid because now we’re learning things that we could’ve learned before coming here,” she said. “We’ve just figured it out by living here. It would’ve been a better idea to have us take a class before we left.”

Laura Wester, a sophomore dance major who will be studying abroad in Thailand, disagrees that taking a foreign language course is necessary towards living in the culture.

Thai is a completely new language to Wester, and although she believes it will be difficult to communicate with Thai speakers, she is confident that her professor will be able to assist her abroad.

“I don’t believe that students should be required to take a class in the foreign language of the country they will be traveling to because I think that (traveling to Thailand) will be a rewarding and amazing experience even though my Thai communication skills are extremely limited,” she said.

Although foreign language classes may not be required for all students, Fetne Mikati, a Kent State professor who teaches Arabic, said she believes that students who do take foreign language classes will be more aware and linked with the world around them.

“There is always this connection. It’s not like we are separated and isolated from the other continents,” she said. “Most other countries see the benefit and advantages of learning a second language and stress it at an earlier age because knowing a second language not only would help you communicate with the people there, but in my mind one of the most important things is being aware of the culture, being aware of the people, the history, the background. This will lead to a better understanding and eventually a better world.”

However, when it comes back to foreign language classes in the U.S., Stasiowski still believes students should see the importance in speaking more than one language.

“Everyone in the rest of the world speaks two languages or more,” Stasiowski said. “Americans are so far behind. We should make more of an effort to speak languages beyond English. It still makes a difference.”

Contact Megan Hermensky at [email protected]