Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Should K Change Its Language Departments?

Foreign language study is a prominent part of the Kalamazoo College curriculum. All students are required to take 3 units in a second language (through the Intermediate Level 103 or 201, depending on the language). In addition, 89% of students surveyed indicated that they have studied abroad or plan to study abroad and most study abroad programs require proficiency in a foreign language. Due to the importance of foreign language education at Kalamazoo College, a recent survey of 79 students at Kalamazoo College was conducted to determine student satisfaction with the college’s foreign language departments and possibly identify any improvements that can be made within the departments.

Overall, students rated that they are satisfied with the current language requirement (average desired unit requirement=2.98) and the language departments as a whole (rated 3.58 on a scale from 1=Very Dissatisfied to 5=Highly Satisfied).

Although students appear generally satisfied, the study also found support for expanding the language departments. On average, most students indicated that they had a high desire to learn languages not currently offered at Kalamazoo College (rated 3.81 on a scale from 1=No Desire to 5= Very High Desire). The study also supported that students have around the same level of desire for learning languages not currently offered at Kalamazoo College as they do for improving in languages at Kalamazoo College. Students listed 19 different languages that they would like to learn that are currently not offered, and the top 3 most frequently listed were Italian, Arabic and Russian. On average, students who were willing to pay for private language lessons or lessons in languages currently not offered by the college said they would pay approximately $115 per quarter. Therefore, it could be beneficial to conduct further studies on adding more components to the language departments.

Alternatively, rather than expanding the language departments to include more languages, more emphasis could be placed on certain aspects within the language courses already offered. Students rated that they have achieved between some proficiency and high proficiency in the languages they have learned at Kalamazoo College. However, the study found that out of 4 different areas (speaking, reading, writing, and understanding speech) students felt the least proficient in writing in foreign languages learned both before Kalamazoo College and at Kalamazoo College. These results could indicate a need for greater focus on developing writing skills within foreign language courses or the development of separate writing-intensive foreign language courses.

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