Recently I had a conversation with a friend of mine who’s going to become the Graduate Studies Chair of his interdisciplinary humanities department (bless his heart!), and we talked about his plan to introduce a foreign language requirement for their Ph.D. students. I expressed shock that his department didn’t already have one, which is why I guess he wants to implement one. He doesn’t know how the rest of the faculty will react to his ideas, and he confessed that his plan might go nowhere.
We talked about the tragic irony of universities cutting foreign-language departments while simultaneously encouraging the faculty to “globalize” the curriculum, collaborate with international researchers, and admit more non-U.S. students to our programs. (I guess it’s the privilege of the Empire to insist that its language is the new lingua franca, but it sure seems obnoxious and anti-intellectual to me.) I had to learn two other languages at least to the functional reading level in order to earn my Ph.D., and never thought that I’d need them for my research. But then, my research crossed the border into Quebec, and I surely was glad that I had at least some rudimentary French language skills. (And you know, you can improve your language skills even in middle age, if you travel a bit, spend all day in the archives taking notes in another language, and talking to the locals. Ca marche, mes amis! And maybe one of these days I can find the right accent marks in WordPress. . . )
In short, I have no idea what I’d be doing now if I were restricted to English-language only documents. That’s where my field has been–I don’t think that’s where it’s going, or at least I hope that’s not where it’s going to stay.
What’s the state of foreign-language study at your uni, and do your graduate programs require training in foreign languages? Do you have any practical (or political) advice for my friend about how he might implement of such a requirement? What do you graduate students think about your foreign language requirements? If you are a faculty person, what is your experience with students and foreign language requirements?