Many college students are currently pursuing studies in economics, the sciences, and computer programming, according to French and Francophone Studies Department Chair Alexandre Dauge-Roth. While students are enrolling in the numerous language courses offered at Bates—German, Russian, Japanese, French, Chinese, and Spanish—the language departments are often faced with demand for new language courses.
The most popular languages currently spoken in the United States are English, Spanish, French, German, Chinese, Tagalog, Vietnamese, Italian, and Arabic. However, Bates does not offer languages based on how commonly spoken they are in the U.S.
It is possible to introduce one of these languages to Bates. According to Dauge-Roth, the issue involves deciding where to place the professor (in a new department or an existing one) and how to address the curriculum (whether to offer the language as a minor or major).
Furthermore, there is the issue of funding. A new language is required to have at least one full-time and one part-time professor, as stated by the Chair of the Spanish Department, David George. It is easier to introduce a language to an existing department, such as Portuguese to the Spanish Department and Korean to the Asian Studies Department, than to implement a new department.
Introducing a difficult language such as Arabic can be rather risky, for it has a “Darwinian smell to it because the survival rate is low,” Dauge-Roth said. In fact, a few years ago, a visiting professor at Bates taught Arabic three times a week for an hour. After three weeks, the number of enrolled students dropped from 50 to 3.
Students have the opportunity to study languages not offered at Bates if they register the class as an independent study with another college, such as Bowdoin. At the end of the semester, the grades will be sent to the college as Bates credit and will be entered into Garnet Gateway. Typically, one to three students do this per semester with Arabic or Italian. This semester, Ezra Oliff-Lieberman ’18, Nicky Meyerson ’19, and Danielle Cohen ’19 are taking Arabic at Bowdoin.
Bates, in fact, is the only NESCAC not offering Arabic as an individual program or part of another major. Currently, the French and Francophone Studies Department is working on introducing Arabic, given that many Francophone countries often have speakers of Arabic, too. However, given the complexity of implementing a new program, there have not been any definite plans.
Both George and Dauge-Roth emphasize the importance of languages in education. “Through the study of the language, you study different worldviews about society and politics,” Dauge-Roth said. According to George, taking two foreign language classes is better than merely taking one because it will benefit the students culturally and linguistically.
Students are encouraged to study abroad and take Short Term classes in countries where their language of study is widely spoken in order to gain a better understanding of the culture and to improve their language skills. If the student is able to forget about his or her American friends and become fully immersed in the country, then he or she will “discover a new way of thinking and interacting,” Dauge-Roth said. Most programs even teach an accelerated 101 course in which students can study the language intensively.
According to the Off-Campus Study webpage, “students who study in non-English speaking settings must take at least one full-time course in that country’s language, modern or ancient.” However, if the language is taught at Bates, students are expected to complete the equivalent of two years of college-level study. This includes French, Spanish, and German. Students may study abroad with only one year of “proficiency” in the languages of Chinese, Japanese, and Russian-speaking countries.
When speaking another language, “[you] are not the same person when [you] speak English compared to when [you] speak French,” Dauge-Roth said. Therefore, going abroad to study another language is something that Dauge-Roth and George encourage.