Emerson's lack of language classes hold students back

by Charlotty Herman / Beacon Staff • November 16, 2016

Three days a week, I wake up at 7:30 a.m., pick up an americano from the Thinking Cup and jump on the Green Line toward Boston University. There, I take a Spanish 212 class, in addition to the four courses I’m enrolled in at Emerson. People often question why I do this and I have a simple answer: I love learning and speaking Spanish. I can’t expand my Spanish language education here at Emerson, and I think this is something that should change.
 
When I was applying to colleges, Emerson’s wonderful journalism program, distinguished writing program, and urban location stuck out to me. And as a bonus, I wouldn’t have to take math. But there was one problem: the only languages offered are “elementary” level––with no language minors in sight, either.  When I called to inquire about this seemingly missing minor, I was told any Spanish classes I take would only count as electives. But I want it to count as a language. Spanish is a real academic subject and should be treated as such. I did not register in this class through the consortium, but rather on my own through BU’s non-degree program.
 
When I told my friends from BU that I couldn’t minor in a language or take this level of Spanish at Emerson, their jaws dropped. Most people they knew were minoring in a language––they saw it as a normal, common practice. BU is huge––over 32,000  students compared to Emerson’s approximate 4,500––but in a communication-focused school, language should not only be helpful but necessary.
 
Another language-oriented opportunity offered by Emerson is the France summer program run by journalism professor and Beacon advisor Jerry Lanson. In order to go on this trip, a student must have taken at least one French class. Students have an opportunity to live with a family, practice language skills, explore French culture, and obtain four credits. However, I find it strange that the level of knowledge needed for this experience is elementary and doesn’t count toward a language minor. This also raises another question: if people can start in this program, why can’t they advance? They acquired basic language skills and an international experience—now what?
 
According to the college website, part of Emerson’s mission is to “...foster respect for human diversity and inspire students to create and communicate with clarity, integrity and conviction”. The college offers classes to help students understand various cultures in Latin America, Europe, Asia, Africa and the United States but one cannot fully recognize and understand a culture without a solid proficiency in a language. 
 
I expect more from Emerson. How can a person communicate without language? Without advanced languages (or a language minor), students will not be able to put “bilingual” on their resume or be able to fully explore their passion for language. Say I’m working at a newspaper in the future and my editor is figuring out who to send to Spain, or perhaps a story in a Spanish-speaking neighborhood. I don’t want minimal language education to hold me back from getting those stories. 
 
College should be for exploring all of a person’s passions and learning to appreciate a different world than he or she grew up in, and Spanish allows me to do both. I have learned about countries and regions all over Spain, Mexico, and Central and South America in both my class at BU and in high school. 
 
Emerson may even lose some very qualified, thoughtful applicants because many people grew up learning and developing language skills and may feel that this school does not appreciate that. I can also better understand others with a different life, culture and upbringing than my own. While learning the language, I fell in love with the words and the sound, the different cadence, conjugation and sentence structure. I sometimes start thinking in Spanish because of the interesting pattern of thought. 
 
By not including language classes, Emerson is implying––hopefully unintentionally––that well-educated Americans should only speak English. The college prioritizes literacy and eloquence in English and English only, looking at other countries from a removed perspective. We study authors like Gloria Anzaldua, a Chicana writer and activist. But few of my peers can understand the Spanish she included—leaving them unaware of some important pieces of her arguments.
 
Without language classes, we are detached from the world. We, as students, must start a movement to implement more language education here at Emerson.