Second Languages: Skills or Cross-Cultural Learning?

A task force at Princeton University has put forward an interesting proposal to change its general education requirements: all students would have to take at least one or two semesters of a foreign language, regardless of previous study. No-one could test out or be exempt for any reason. I applaud any university that requires its students to study languages other than English, but it’s the rationale I really like. The task force report contends that studying a foreign language entails more than acquiring skills: it prepares “students for deeper and sustained immersion in international contexts. . . Although learning another language does involve skill and proficiency, we also see language as a critical point of entry into cross-cultural understanding.

Exactly. And if you agree, then doesn’t it make sense to include some language lessons in short-term programs? When a goal of education abroad is to provide immersion and cross-cultural learning in a way that fits with the goals of the program, then language learning must be included. The Princeton task force report seems to take on the question: if you want students to be able to function in a globalized world, how can you exclude foreign languages? I believe what they’re saying is–you can’t. Language and culture, language and worldview go hand in hand.

Bravo, Princeton. Let’s hope the proposal succeeds.

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