Size & Function in College French Language Programs

SIZE - Often college presidents and chancellors want to placate funding commissionsby eliminating small programs, thinking the effect will be small, and it will allow them to retain the large programs. Sometimes they take the liberty of "reinventing" the university, using programs which show a steady growth pattern. Though post-secondary institutions are beginning to target 10 or 15/year as a measure of a "functional" program, the actual average graduation rate of college French majors is around 3/year. What is wrong with this?

Small and large are always relative terms, when it comes to value and functionality. Diamonds are very small; yet nobody doubts their general value. For the average car, you would not have it out on the road without small parts, like spark plugs and shifter bracket bushings. Health workers would not confront an Ebola patient if they were missing even the smallest component of their PPE, or were unclear about the smallest step in safety protocol. Foreign-language classes are necessarily small, because they teach a combination of skill and fact. They must have sufficient moments of interactivity and student focus to be successful. Much language learning is necessarily acquired through supervised interactivity, with individual feedback during instructional time, and is personnel intensive. Language study should be core because of what it does in brain and cognitive development:

    Foreign Languages - An Essential Core Experience

Core status in K-12, would benefit the status of Foreign Language programs in college, perhaps even adding to their size. Looking at college language departments, the number of students majoring in any given foreign language will depend on a number of things outside of the general program quality: 1) K-12 demographics; percent of college students who have studied that language for more than 2 years in K-12. 2) Staff size; adequate staffing for offering more than one upper division course per semester. 3) Study abroad/immersion opportunities; students have the funding and time to immerse themselves in the language, and to take upper-division courses abroad, or during immersion. 4) Class scheduling issues. Classes are schuduled when most stuydents can take them, and upper-division courses are chosen so students can meet demands for requirements. 5) Class size issues. The National Education Association and Association of Departments of Foreign Languages both recommend a class size of no more than 15, while the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages says that whether in a tradition or an online class, where the number of students exceeds 15, " teachers must be provided with additional support in order to maintain sound pedagogical practices." 6) Quality assessment opportunities. Real language proficiency is assessed at the end of the program through nationally or internationally recognized assessment organization or tools such as an ACTRFL OPI (=school-to-work value). Few major in foreign languages.  The number of French majors graduating nationally in 2011-12, according to The Digest of Educational Statistics was 2,362:

    Degrees in French, . . . conferred by postsecondary institutions (-2012)

FUNCTION - A second language embraces all of the activities that English embraces, while the learner comes to understand the differences that ethnicities and national cultures bring to those activities. The overwhelming majority of successful language learners must spend a lot of time learning, but few choose to teach or become scholars. For the average student drawn to drawn to a second language for its usefullness, the best possible scenario is that of a second major. These students are excited about other knowledge and skills,  but their international skill and knowledge are also needed.

    $$World Languages = Career Opportunities$$$.html

It is then not unusual for students to have a language as a second major, or a second concentration extensive enough to learn the language. Insisting that a successful language learner have a language concentration as a first major, or measuring the school-to-work relevancy of learners programs by whether or not they find teaching, scholarly work, or even a position as a translator, is like judging engineers on how many bridges they have built, or political science majors on what kind of political offices they have held.

    You Wouldn't Know They Majored in French

TennesseeBob Peckham, PhD
Director, Globe-Gate Research
Made in Tennessee to bring you the world