Most majors at Mercer require two consecutive semesters of a second language. Lately, it seems like the variety of languages has become slimmer and going beyond a 100 level classes has become even more rare.
Prof. Daniel D’Arpa, the director of the Foreign Language Department, has some theories as to why the foreign language selection has declined.
“It all comes down to interest – what students are interested in taking. At a two year school, students are in a rush. They have a plan,” D’Arpa said in a recent interview with The VOICE.
In the past, Mercer has tried to boost students’ interest in foreign languages by offering a wide variety of language classes.
“Deans have tried Hungarian, Hebrew, Hindi, Polish, and Arabic,” D’Arpa says, but he goes on to note that these languages are not typically offered since students’ interest in them comes and goes.
Stephanie McMullen, a second year student at Mercer, is not interested in taking a second language. She says, “It’s a waste of time for me to learn a second language. If I’m not going into a career centered around learning a language, I shouldn’t have to take one.”
Other students are more enthusiastic about learning a language, but believe that the lack of foreign language options is a problem. “If a student wants to learn a language, then they should have the opportunity,” says Alexandra Honore, a criminal justice major.
Honore agrees with D’Arpa that interest plays a big part in the lack of languages.
“Nobody seems to care about learning a language here. Students are thinking okay, ‘How will [learning a language] help me?,’” says Honore.
It is also difficult for students to get into a language class that is higher than 100 level. In some cases, students who are fluent in a language like Spanish will take Spanish 101.
“There is a rumor going around that advisers have been advising students to take 101 to keep up their GPA,” said D’Arpa. This puts a restriction on students hoping to get into a higher level of a language. If the majority of students only enroll in 101 and 102 language courses, the demand for higher level classes will be smaller and less classes will be available.
Placing students correctly also becomes an issue because, D’Arpa says, “Students who are fluent in a language can purposely fail the placement test in order to be in 101.”
D’Arpa tries to mitigate the effect of this problem in his own Spanish classes. He says, “I use these [knowledgeable] students as a learning tool to help the other students. I really don’t want them there, but the class is better with fluent speakers.”
Honore also had an issue being placed correctly. While registering for classes, her advisers were unaware that she could register for Italian 201. Italian 201 was not well advertised due to the lack of students who signed up for it. She says she was then placed into Italian 102, which is below her level of fluency. She was finally placed into Italian 201 when her professor realized she needed a higher level.
D’Arpa does have some plans for the future of the language department. His main goal is to become better at placing students.
“In place before me, languages were more grammar based. I’ve been pushing hard against the focus on grammar and more for speaking and communication. Grammar gets in the way of fluency,” says D’Arpa. He has also been planning a second study abroad trip to Costa Rica and considering a trip to Spain.
“It all comes down to interest,” says D’Arpa.