UT’s foreign language programs push students to online alternatives

Alexandra Triolo

Many UT students are required to take a foreign language as part of their degree. To fulfill this requirement, students must participate in language courses either at UT or a community college. Many students opt for the community college and take online courses during the summer because of assumptions that fulfilling the requirement at UT is a GPA obliterator. While taking language classes at UT may be harder than taking them online, the best things in life do not come easy. By limiting your opportunity of in-person language exposure and practice, you may be shortchanging yourself out of truly learning a language that could broaden your personal depth and professional appeal. 

According to French lecturer Robin Benzrihem, students do not allow themselves the “real experience” with the language when they take a course online. Benzrihem said, if you are a beginner in a language, it is better to take it at a university over the course of a semester while using an online summer class as an aid for maintaining proficiency. Benzrihem does agree that online language practice is important, however, and said that UT’s online component to its foreign language courses allows students “unlimited access to grammar practice, phrases, words and sounds.” Benzrihem believes online supplementation is a quality component and attribute to in-person lecture. However, in-person lecture is the most crucial aspect to truly learning the language. 

Carson Modrall, Plan II, religious studies and government junior, took Spanish at UT during the summer and explained that, although it is an intensive learning experience, her positive educational encounter didn’t carry over into the fall. 

“I got a lot out of the class because I was in the classroom three hours a day, every day, speaking and listening to exclusively Spanish; my professors did not use English,” Modrall said.

“During the fall, I feel I got less out of it because my professor did not speak exclusively Spanish, and I was only there three  times a week. I strongly believe that the lower-division courses are designed more for the Ph.D. student to learn to teach than for the undergrad student to learn the language.”  

Modrall’s issue with lower division language courses may be a significant factor that attributes to UT students choosing to fulfill their language requirement off campus. Many students may actually want to learn the language,but they do not want to be guinea pigs for grad students simply to receive a poor grade from a teacher who doesn’t know how to teach and walking away from the class with little to no knowledge of the language at all.   

Despite her frustrations with the system, however, Modrall agrees with Benzrihem that “students definitely get more out of taking foreign language at UT because [they] are held to an in-person standard.”

Kristen Schiele, Spanish language teaching and public health sophomore, agrees with Modrall, explaining that “it’s a disservice to yourself to take foreign language online because the whole point of language is interacting with others and using it in practice.”

Richard Flores, senior associate dean for academic affairs in the College of Liberal Arts, agrees, “I would definitely advise students who wish to acquire functional proficiency in a foreign language to choose the classroom model, specifically the intensive model as offered by some language departments at UT.” He said. “The classroom experience is particularly critical for beginners.”

It is clear that many students and professors alike believe that taking a foreign language course online is not beneficial to actually learning the language. Yet, a great deal of students opt to fulfill their foreign language requirement online. This is mainly because of the frustrations inherent in taking a language course at UT: being taught by inexperienced graduate students, for example, or having inconsistently beneficial class experiences over the summer and fall semesters. If UT were to fix these problems, students might be more inclined in spending time in the classroom speaking Spanish than answering multiple-choice quizzes in Spanish online. However, students who choose the online route may regret it, despite UT’s language downfalls. In a professional world where bilingualism, or simply working knowledge of another language, is practically expected, not being able to claim foreign language proficiency immediately sets you back as opposed to your peers who can. 

Triolo is a journalism freshman from Hollister, California.