Letter to the Editor from Mary McKee

Mary McKee

I was saddened to learn from your front-page article entitled “Language barriers prevent abroad opportunities” Wednesday that Kent State students now increasingly prefer to “study abroad” while taking classes in English because, as Ediz Kaykayoglu, assistant director of education abroad, was quoted as saying, “[students] would prefer to learn in English because that is the language they are most proficient in.”

Of course, most students are more proficient in English, but an exchange program should help students deepen their understanding of a language they were NOT raised speaking, and let them connect with locals of a foreign country. After students graduate, they will not have the structured programs to help them improve their language skills, so they should take advantage of this opportunity while still in college.

I worry that this decrease in willingness to take classes in other languages may indicate one of three disturbing propositions: 1. Students do not believe foreign language proficiency is important, 2. GPAs have become more important than learning, and 3. Administrative issues with funding or credit hours prevent students from taking classes in foreign languages.

I am particularly worried because Spanish is the most widely studied language at Kent State — with 26 sections at an elementary level and 18 sections at an intermediate or high level — yet the map published with Wednesday’s article indicated that Kent State does not offer any “semester or full-year programs” in any of the 21 Spanish-speaking countries. Nor do we offer programs in Russian-speaking, Arabic-speaking or Kiswahili-speaking countries, despite offering multiple levels of classes in these languages.

According to the map, Kent State offers just two “exchange programs” in Spain and “short-term” trips to Mexico, Cuba and Costa Rica. The vast majority of Spanish speakers live in Latin America, not in Spain, yet our university only offers short-term opportunities to visit Latin American countries. Spanish is relevant to us all. It is the second-most-widely spoken language worldwide after Chinese, and more than 37 million people in the U.S. speak Spanish, according to Pewresearch.org.

The website for the university in Madrid, where Kent State students can study, advertises its many programs taught 100 percent in English. Why not just stay in Kent and meet the many foreign students studying in English here? A study abroad program, like the one in Madrid, will not take students’ fluency to a high enough level in order to help them compete for jobs in today’s market.

I applaud the Education Abroad Office’s efforts to help students see the world, but it makes little sense to focus mainly on programs in English-speaking countries or in countries that speak languages not offered at Kent State. Though the programs in Korea and Finland are valuable, why doesn’t the university focus on encouraging the students studying Arabic, Hebrew, Kiswahili, Russian and Spanish on our campus? Our goal as educators should be to help our students get jobs, and only by increasing fluency to above-elementary levels can students’ language classes become more than just resume padding.

Mary McKee is a graduate student at Kent State.