Class helps students master fear of language requirement

Jill Byerly

Karen Reese never thought she would be taking a language class.

Years after her high school graduation, she is attending Kent State as a non-traditional student studying applied conflict management. Four semesters of a language are required for the degree. Similar to other students, Reese entered her first day of elementary Spanish, and found that her professor spoke almost entirely in Spanish, and broken English.

“I had to drop the class,” Reese said. “My problem is that other students in the class have already taken a basic class, and they are ready to move a lot quicker.”

Although not all students are required to complete a language class to earn their degree, Harold Fry, associate professor of modern and classical languages, believes students try to avoid language classes either because they have not had any experience, or a bad experience that have made them afraid of foreign languages.

Fry organized a course especially for that reason. The introduction to structural concepts course is specifically organized to help students understand the eight parts of speech in English, before moving on to another language. It focuses on small parts of speech, such as nouns, verbs and adjectives, and why they are used they way they are, and up through sentence structure. The course is meant to be taken the semester before, or with the first language course.

“If the students understand it in English first, it can be applied to the other languages,” Fry said. “We are working with adults here, and they want a logical explanation for everything. The problem is human language is not 100 percent logical, and we can only go so far.”

Fry strongly believes the students who take the introduction course do better in the following language classes, and he does not know why more students do not take it.

One reason Fry believes students should take this class is because many students missed or need a refresher in the basic parts of speech, because even though they have already learned it, it was probably around seventh or eighth grade, which is around the time they are going through puberty.

“This does all sorts of things to the learning curve because you become aware of the physical appearance, such as acne on your face, and other social shortcomings, instead of the boring parts of speech,” Fry said. “Learning becomes more difficult. Between the ages of 3 to 5, children learn the most and at the quickest pace. You are a regular sponge.”

Fry also believes that the older the person, the more difficult it will be to learn a foreign language. He thinks part of the problem is anxiety, and the second problem is the person’s flexibility to pick things up peaked during their teen years. Fry also compared the amount of time students versus children have to learn a language.

“What a child has the opportunity to learn in years, we squish into two or four semesters,” Fry said. “You simply can’t get to the same level of competence.”

LuWanda Higgins, program coordinator of the student quality advisory committee, and Adult Student Center specialist often sees adult students with problems with their language courses.

“I encourage students to switch to sign language if they feel disconcerted with the professor speaking entirely in the language during the first class,” Higgins said. “They try to find where the best fit is for them, and if there would be an intermediate class that would help them be more efficient in the class work.”

Kent State offers courses in American Sign Language, Arabic, Chinese, French, Spanish, Hebrew, German, Italian, Japanese and more.

“Another reason students have such a hard time learning a foreign language is because they do not want to embarrass themselves by making those funny sounds,” Fry said. “Kids have such an easier time because they love those weird sounds, they’re fun!”

Contact student affairs reporter Jill Byerly at [email protected].