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Foreign language education embraces change

Foreign language education embraces change

Alex Hammerschmidt

Roxanne Riegler, assistant professor of German and French, instructs a morning class Tuesday, April 2 in Plumb Hall. Emporia State will no longer offer concentrations in French or German language, but will continue to offer entry-level courses in both areas.

With a nationwide decline in foreign language education, it’s no surprise that Emporia State’s foreign languages have been following the same trend over the past few years.

After ending the German and French majors and minors during the 2012-13 school year, the German and French concentrations within the Modern Language major have also recently been discontinued.

The elimination of these concentrations will decrease the number of classes offered in the German and French languages. Soon, only the first year of German and French will be taught. Roxane Riegler, associate professor of German and French, will be leaving ESU at the end of May as she has accepted a job offer at Murray State University where she will be able to teach all levels of German and French.

“It’s very sad that people are not so much interested in learning modern languages or foreign languages since our age is a very globalized age and era, and people don’t seem to be too much interested in other cultures,” Riegler said. “It (foreign language education) is a broadening of your personal horizons. You learn other cultures, you learn how other people think and live, and I think that that’s extremely enriching…It’s been an emotional roller coaster for the whole department, and it has been going on for years. I just find it very regrettable.”

The decision to end the concentrations wasn’t an easy one, but there were many factors involved, both quantitative and qualitative.

“What we did in terms…of what’s called academic program discontinuance, it’s basically looking at programs that aren’t meeting, first and foremost, standards by the Kansas Board of Regents,” said Michael Shonrock, president of ESU. “The hard part is there are certain disciplines—and foreign languages—one of those challenges is you have less and less students that are interested in pursuing those degrees…It’s a tough decision, one you ponder about, because I feel strongly that the arts and humanities, particularly, are not always perceived as strongly as they need to be, and there’s much more of a push towards career.”

While German and French classes are cut down, there will be a section of Latin taught during the fall 2014 semester. Deborah Gerish, associate professor of history, will be teaching the class for the first time since the fall of 2004. A student had expressed interest in taking a Latin class to Gerish, and it worked for Gerish to teach a section this fall. A class needs 10 students to be enrolled in order to continue, and there are currently 14 students enrolled in the upcoming class.

“While this won’t fill the gap made by the ending of the French and German concentrations in foreign languages, that it’ll remind people how cool foreign languages are,” Gerish said. “Latin is the mother of all the Romance languages. Spanish, Italian, less directly French…they all have their roots in Latin…A good grounding in Latin can prepare you for law school, medical school, advanced study in the humanities.”

Another foreign language that will remain is Arabic. The department of English, Modern Languages, and Journalism works with the Fulbright Commission, which funds a graduate student who is a native Arabic speaker, typically from Northern Africa or the Middle East, to become a Foreign Language Teaching Assistant. An FLTA at ESU lives in Emporia for a year while taking graduate classes and simultaneously teaching Arabic. This system of instruction for Arabic classes has been going on for a decade.

“If you look at a list of the Fulbright FLTA languages…Arabic is maybe the most important of the lot because today, in our world, Arabic is so important,” said Mel Storm, interim chair of the department of English, Modern Languages, and Journalism. “The connections between the West and the Arab world are so strong. Sometimes they’re controversial, sometimes they’re combative, often they are of the most positive kind, but they are there.”

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