Opinion | Language requirement changes promote monolingualism

University of Iowa language requirements cause concern for cultural awareness and global literacy education on campus.

Yasmina Sahir, Opinions Columnist

The University of Iowa should invest in academic programs that uplift goals of inclusion and global literacy.

Conservative efforts to alter the public classrooms have led to the banning of critical legal theory, the legalization of private school vouchers, and a current bill, House File 5, that would require publication of all teaching manuals and books used in Iowa public schools. These actions harm marginalized students when they are unable to learn about their community history or celebrate their culture or language in the classroom.

The UI and the state should work together to make foreign language education more accessible by offering more programs in public schools and by lowering costs of language courses in higher education.

Upcoming changes to the UI general education program in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences will lower the language requirement for most undergraduates. The current language requirement states undergraduate students must show proficiency in a second language equivalent to four semesters of language education.

The UI will make policy changes to the second language requirement on campus starting in the summer of 2024. This change reaffirms the state ideology that students from Iowa have no need to communicate, accept, or understand their global neighbors.

There are some positive points to this policy change because it could remove cost barriers and additional stressors for students.

Each individual course for foreign language contracts between four and five semester hours. Full-time undergraduates do not pay cost per credit, but students who do are charged between $1,862.50 and $2,225.50 at the resident rate and between $1,862.50 and $6,805.50 at the non-resident tuition rate for one language course each semester.

Learning languages takes active effort. While some classes at UI don’t assign work to fill the recommended two hours of homework for every hour you spend in lecture, retention of new vocabulary and grammar concepts often fills up allocated study time.

In conversation with other members of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Dean Advisory Council, those in favor of a language change mentioned that language learning did not matter for their intended career field. The extra effort and stress these courses created was a detriment to success in other coursework.

While the above arguments include valid concerns, I hesitate to agree that the way to make higher education more accessible is to promote monolingualism. A 2013 survey found that 80 percent of Americans were English-only speakers at home. A 2017 Des Moines Register study found Iowa lagged in comparison to other states’ language education programs.

The value of foreign language skills is increasing over time. Bilingualism can be a key point on a resume and may include increased benefits from employers including a higher rate of pay per hour or salary agreement.

UI should keep its standard of four semesters of world language courses. These four semesters already do not equate to fluency but enable students to feel successful in non-academic or professional conversations.

After multiple attempts by the DI, UI Division of World Literatures, Languages, and Cultures staff members did not respond at the time of publication.

French, Spanish, dialects of Arabic and Chinese, and Korean can be heard on the streets of Iowa City on any given day. This shows that foreign language education is only a personal and professional benefit no matter where students decide to live and work post-graduation.

Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.