OPINION: USC must offer more foreign language courses

Shideh Ghandeharizadeh | Daily Trojan

For anyone looking to study Tagalog, Czech or any other language not commonly spoken, USC is not the place to look. While USC considers itself a world-class institution, its course catalog simply does not reflect the same priorities.

The reality is that USC does not offer enough foreign languages, a critical component to cultural study and immersion — skills that widen students’ avenues of understanding and learning. Its lack of language offerings shows that USC disregards students who want to learn beyond what had been offered to them in previous schools or programs.

Universities with limited foreign language courses overlook the fact that language is often the gateway to learning more about a culture and understanding the ideas, practices and principles within them. Not everyone can study abroad and physically gain a global experience during their years in school. Even then, those who study abroad are sometimes held back by language barriers that prevent them from having a more rewarding experience. Furthermore, literature and art are better understood when one is familiar with the tendencies of another language — even authors who write primarily in English but are multilingual make stylistic choices better understood with knowledge of their language.

Despite a high proportion of international students, USC’s language courses do not complement its wide demographic range. USC ranks second on the list of the top 10 universities with the highest number of enrolled international students, and has contended with New York University for the No. 1 spot in recent years. According to last year’s freshman class admissions profile, 14 percent of freshmen admitted were international students, with the most represented independent school as Shanghai Pinghe School in China. Nearly 25 percent of the University population is international students. With such a large pool of international students, it is surprising that USC does not offer the same diversity in its course catalog.

The University’s language center offers 12 foreign language exams for students who may have studied a language prior to their studies at USC. Two of these languages are classical languages, Greek and Latin. In addition, Hebrew and Portuguese can be tested by departments outside of the Language Center. USC offers 13 foreign language courses, six more than that offered by the College Board. There are resources available to students who do want to learn languages beyond those offered, but these do not come with course credit or the structured curriculum that is necessary for some students.

A common argument is that plenty of students waive the language requirement, and universities should not be expected to offer much more than what high schools do. But this line of thinking completely overlooks students who do want to maintain the languages they know or have learned, or those want to learn new languages. There are also students enrolled in particular fields of study where language is important, but not  a required component of the curriculum. For example, international relations (global business) students are not required to learn a foreign language, but are highly encouraged to do so by the Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, as their area of study and future careers may involve communication outside of English.

Compared to USC, UCLA offers over 40 different languages, including several that are no longer in use in the modern world — Ancient Greek, Medieval English, Old Irish, Old Norse, among others. While UCLA does have a larger student body, and perhaps higher numbers of students who want to study foreign language, its funding per student is stretched. USC is far from competitive in terms of its course offerings, but likely has the resources to become so. When considering course expansion, there is always the barrier of funding and staffing — but these issues cannot be resolved without discourse about them.

The choice of which languages to offer is another challenge, and narrowing them down by speaking population or usefulness can be close to impossible. The best way for USC to begin expanding its language programs is for the University to gauge student interest democratically, or through a public forum. However, this is also consideration for a later time, if USC looks to increase the number of language courses offered.

USC’s mission statement says that it is  “a global institution in a global center, attracting more international students over the years than any other American university.” In terms of student demographics, this statement is accurate; but with respect to its foreign language offerings, USC fails to deliver. A university committed to cultivating expansive thinking, globally minded students should start at the foundations. Language is, after all, fundamental to all human understanding.