Foreign language fiasco

By Jennifer Meyer

I completed the foreign language requirements for my bachelor’s degree last spring. I chose to study Spanish since I felt it would be a useful language to know after college.

Having passed all four classes, I can confidently say that I have a Spanish comprehension level of a two-year-old living in China. I cannot count after diez, I do not understand anyone who is speaking Spanish around me and the only verb I know well is hablar, as in “no hablo español.”

According to the 2004-2005 NIU Undergraduate Catalog, students pursuing a bachelor of arts degree must “demonstrate competence in a foreign language equivalent to that attained in two years of college instruction.”

The Spanish department did a few things to reassure itself students were “demonstrating competence.” For instance, my FLSP 202 book said “moving toward fluency” on the front cover.

With NIU’s Spanish department, some students taking FLSP 202 are no closer to speaking fluent Spanish than they were when they started in 101.

There seem to be a few aspects of the Spanish department that are causing students to have unsatisfactory results and attitudes toward their classes. For instance, one factor I found frustrating and discouraging was that students who already had Spanish skills were allowed to enroll in FLSP 101 in order to receive an easy A.

This is not fair to students who have never taken Spanish or don’t speak Spanish at home. They can fall behind easier and faster if the professor is fooled into believing most of his or her students are catching on quickly.

My FLSP 101 class was a nightmare. Most of the students already had experience with the language and I was beginning to feel as though I was in the wrong class.

I even wondered if there was a FLSP 98 that I was supposed to have taken prior to the class. Carrie White, a senior psychology major, has also been in classes with experienced Spanish students.

She said having these types of students in her class made her feel inferior and unprepared. “[The students] made me anxious in class because I did not know the answers and felt stupid,” White said.

Another issue that could be affecting Spanish students’ performance is the class material, as well as some professors. Nicole Salazar, a spring 2005 NIU graduate and former Spanish student, found her classes to be tedious.

She was often bored in class and believed the homework assigned to her had nothing to do with what she was learning in class. White commented on the inadequate testing arrangements the department had. She found it unnecessary to have a mass Spanish midterm at 9 p.m., and her language lab assignments did not relate to what she learned in class.

Salazar agreed with White, saying the exercises she did in class did not help her Spanish skills. Salazar believes students should be exposed to the language more and not to tedious exercises.

Melissa Byrd, a senior elementary education major and Spanish minor, is on the other side of the fence. She said her professors made her “work for her grade,” and she thought what she was learning in class was usually valuable information. However, Byrd had different professors than White and Salazar. Even though all of the professors are willing to help students during office hours, students may hesitate to take advantage.

Spanish professors can be intimidating, especially when he or she never speaks in English and the students have no clue what he or she is talking about.

Even though Spanish is a good language to learn and is useful in today’s society, it may be a good idea for NIU to encourage native speakers to learn a language foreign to them, just like everyone else has to, and for the Spanish department to adopt new ways of running its classes.

Then, maybe more students will receive the education they expect from NIU and will have a much more positive experience with the Spanish department.

Columns reflect the opinion of the author and not necessarily that of the Northern Star staff.