There should not be a foreign language requirement for international students. Understanding why will require a broader look into the role of communication in liberal arts, and the extent to which language limits global engagement.
The foreign language requirement, known as COM2 at Richmond, requires student proficiency in reading and writing of a different language based on a national standard known as Intermediate Low. There are different paths for reaching this requirement, including continued study of a language, scoring well on a placement test (either in high school or at Richmond) and exemption.
Most international students speak a language other English and meet these requirements. These students can go through the exemption process, and opt out of taking foreign language classes if they choose, but not every international student speaks a second language.
Students from England, where English is the primary language, who have not learned a second language are not exempt from the foreign language requirement. International students who were schooled in English will also not be exempt unless they show evidence of learning a language other than English.
“The idea of being able to communicate in a second language is one of the fundamental bases of a liberal arts education,” said Sharon Scinicariello, director of Global Studio and the person responsible for COM2 assessments.
Scinicariello also says that the requirement is partially about “access to knowledge without translation,” but more importantly to allow students to function in a global society, which she defined as the ability “to be comfortable in societies where your language is not the dominant language.”
Foreign language classes allow students to learn a new language and function in a global society. But connection comes from more than the ability to communicate with people without a translator.
International students, regardless of their spoken language, are coming from different cultures. They have learned different political systems, economic systems and traditions. This alone provides them with the cultural diversity that the language requirement is asking of students. Studying four years at an American university will also provide them a perspective outside of their home country.
Although there should be no requirement, many international students still want to take language classes.
Hannah Thomson, a sophomore from London, understands why foreign language is required and is currently taking French 221. When asked if she thought she should be exempt, she said “I’ve come to a liberal arts university, I should take a language just like every other student.”
Hannah does mention that there are disadvantages coming from the British school system, where students do not typically take language class during their last two years in high school.
The foreign language requirement can take up to a maximum of four units, which can take away opportunities for students to take other classes. If international students were not required to be proficient in another language, it could allow them to take four classes, which could be significant in the pursuit of an additional major or minor.
The practical uses of speaking another language are useful, but learning a language is less about utilization and more about making connections across different cultures. International students have experienced first hand what it means to be surrounded in a different culture, and should not be required to take a foreign language.