Editorial: Arts and Sciences should lessen the language requirement

Learning a language can be a transformative experience and open doors for cultural diffusion and awareness. The language departments at Tufts are exceptional, with professors constantly pushing for students to gain a greater understanding of diverse perspectives. However, Tufts should consider lessening the language requirement for the School of Arts and Sciences.

There is no doubt that languages are advantageous in certain fields, but Tufts’ hefty language/culture requirement places a real strain on liberal arts students. Mandating six semesters of language/culture seems to emphasize its importance above other distribution requirements that need only one or two classes, such as world civilizations and humanities. This required curriculum begs the question: Is language so much more important than history, science, English or math? If not, then why do we require students to take three times the amount of classes?

The current setup inhibits some students from taking courses that could allow them the opportunity to double major, add a minor or even explore academic interests outside their chosen field. There are students who simply do not have a natural affinity for languages, making the requirement a potential hit to their GPAs. It seems unfair that these students are made to endure so many language classes, making it more difficult for them to enroll in other courses of equal intellectual value.

Even though it is possible for students to place out of the requirement entirely, this is highly unlikely for many students, especially given many feel they have been placed in a lower level language class than they are capable of taking. The placement test, administered to matriculating students during orientation, varies drastically across languages. There is a lack of uniformity concerning what level of comprehension places a student out of a semester’s requirement, which leads to certain languages demanding far more time than others. 

Although learning a language is more than a pre-professional skill, there is no denying that students tend to pick classes that cater to their intended career path. International relations majors have to take eight semesters of language, which, although steep, seems rational, given that foreign language comprehension is necessary to work in many areas of international affairs.

However, the School of Engineering does not have a language requirement due to the fact that engineers are already saddled with requirements, and they are less likely to require language in their future careers. Clearly, Tufts does not necessarily expect the same language baseline for all of their undergraduate students. Students in the School of Arts and Sciences who are majoring in science, technology and math disciplines, like engineers, also have a heavy science and math workload and likely will not need foreign language proficiency in their future jobs either. However, liberal arts students are subject to the language requirement while engineers are not. This poses a particular burden to pre-med, pre-vet and pre-dental students, who need to take major classes, fulfill distribution requirements and complete all of the science courses necessary for graduate school admittance. These students have an equally intensive schedule compared to many engineers; but on top of existing requirements, many are bogged down by six semesters of language/culture.

From an admissions perspective, the sizable language requirement is a hindrance to Tufts. Most other universities do not stress the importance of language nearly as much. For prospective students, the language requirement can be a real turnoff, and sometimes that’s all it takes to cross Tufts off a list of similar selective universities.

Tufts’ language departments are part of what make Tufts such a diverse intellectual community. However, reducing requirements from six to four semesters could free up students’ schedules to enroll in classes they elect to take instead of ones they are forced to take. This change could actually invigorate the language department, ensuring everyone in higher-level language classes actually wants to be there. In multiple ways, Tufts could benefit from re-evaluating its approach to the languages.


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