As more bilingual students matriculate at colleges, schools across the country are increasingly faced with a tough choice regarding language classes. Administrators and language educators must determine whether to allow native speakers to take language classes with students who are in the beginning stages of learning a new language.
GW should consider offering separate classes for native speakers of foreign languages. Bilingual students are more comfortable with class material, leading to a splintered class where some students flourish while others wallow in anxiety and uncertainty as they compare themselves to their classmates. Providing separate classes will help narrow the gap of student understanding and allow all students to learn at a pace that best suits them, as each group of students has its own educational needs.
At GW, students are placed in foreign language courses based on a placement test or their performance in prerequisite courses. In my Advanced Spanish II class last semester, there were no native speakers. The class flowed pretty smoothly, as we all had comparable reading comprehension levels. None of us spoke particularly quickly, which helped the flow of conversation as others were able to follow along.
This semester in my upper level Spanish course, there are several native speakers, all of whom participate more in class conversation than most of the non-native speakers. This participation is almost certainly linked to the relative ease with which native speakers can interpret material, while many non-native speakers must translate from the language they are learning to their native language. Because of the native students’ backgrounds, and the ability to participate more in class, less time is spent on the students who may need more attention or are struggling with the course material. A class dedicated to beginners would create a more level classroom and simultaneously allow professors and teaching assistants to hone in on the students who need help the most.
To smooth over the discrepancy between the two groups of students, officials can create classes tailored to native speakers. These would be similar to English classes the University offers, meaning an emphasis would be placed on exploring different types of literature rather than developing grammatical skills. Half of GW’s peer schools already offer classes like this in their Spanish departments. The University of Miami offers three classes for native speakers and Boston University offers a class specifically designed to include only non-native speakers, meaning that schools have already begun separating the two groups of students to better accommodate the needs of each population.
This is an opportunity for GW to change and follow its peers. By offering a wider variety of classes for students who want to learn a foreign language in an academic setting but are already comfortable speaking, GW can cater to a wider audience of potential students while also ensuring the educational needs of existing students are met.
While there are many benefits to splitting native speakers and beginners into different sections, there are some positives to having classes together. Native speakers give other students opportunities to hear their language of study spoken fluidly by someone their own age, meaning they use slang and other words that professors or teaching assistants may not know or teach.
Native speakers push me to do better in class by challenging me to read more when preparing for class and speak more in class. But despite the advantages of having native speakers in the class, the fact that the two groups have different educational needs calls for separate classes. The learning experiences of students who grew up with a second language and students who are learning a language for the first time are vastly different. While our desire to learn the language is the same, our specific needs are on different levels that warrant individual courses and individual professors.
These two groups of students have unique educational needs, and it is time they are treated as such so students can receive the best education possible.
Matthew Zachary, a sophomore majoring in political science, is a Hatchet opinions writer.
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