Staff Editorial: Foreign cultures understood through language

Currently, as a general education requirement, students must demonstrate proficiency of a foreign language. There are two viable options to prove ability in a language: a score of 85 or higher on a Regents exam combined with an additional year of study in that language or a successful score on Geneseo's language placement exam. Most students ace the Regents with their eyes closed, thereafter saying farewell to foreign languages forever.

Consequently, we can all count to 100, tell time, describe an event in the past tense and even use profanity in a different language. But aren't these all aspects of a language that a simple subscription to Rosetta Stone can teach us? With over 1,500 languages available, it is supposedly the world's finest language-learning software and guarantees fluency in under a year.

Evidently, proficiency in a language is easily obtainable. Memorizing words is manageable, and after a reasonable amount of practice, conjugating verbs in all tenses is like second nature.

So what sets a course at Geneseo apart from a few months in front of a computer screen? For those who have ever taken a language course at Geneseo, it is common knowledge that even an introductory class goes further than a lesson on the days of the week or conjugating verbs in the present tense. Language professors not only teach the basic grammar and vocabulary of a language, but other aspects too, such as background including linguistics, history and culture – entities left unaddressed by a CD-ROM. Professors come from all over the world to share their own experiences of foreign countries and cultures, all to help students have a better understanding of a language and its related cultures.

That being said, a satisfactory score on a state exam when we were 16 is barely enough to deem ourselves "masters" of a language by any stretch, let alone consider ourselves proficient.

Students should be required to take at least one foreign language class at Geneseo. With the help of the current placement exam, an entering freshman would be placed into a course at the appropriate level. From there, just one class in that level will be required, in which students will learn not only the basics, but also why the language exists, what kind of people speak the language, and the cultures within which the language flourishes.

As college students, we are critical thinkers, and we must delve further into all subjects than what they appear to be on the surface. This institution would be choosing the easier path if it were to continue to consider a high school score suitable proof of proficiency of a foreign language. But if Geneseo wants to keep a reputation as a premier liberal arts college, a language course requirement that lives up to that ideal must be implemented.