Sunsetting foreign language programs

Located on the fourth floor of DeBartolo Hall, the department of English and world languages displays insights to its programs. Photo by Jessica Stamp / The Jambar

By Jessica Stamp

At Youngstown State University, students who decide to major in a foreign language will find their options limited. 

In previous semesters, Spanish, Italian, German and French were offered  as majors. But with a lack of financial funding and student enrollment in those courses, French was reduced and offered as only a minor, and it seems Italian is also heading in that direction. Soon students will only be offered Spanish as a major.

“There are people to fill those positions, but the number of students, in the view of the administration, are not sufficient to justify the position,” John Sarkissian, former department of world languages and culture chairperson and professor of Latin and Ancient Greek, said. “So, it’s not a supply issue, but a demand issue.” 

The department of world languages and culture merged with the department of English due to reduced funding and a lack of students majoring in foreign languages. 

According to Cleveland State University’s department of world languages, literature and culture webpage, it currently offers its students three language majors: Arabic/Middle Eastern studies, French and Spanish. Students can minor in six languages. YSU’s language program offers five minors: Italian, Spanish, French, British and American Literature, and linguistics. Students can also take a year of coursework in either American Sign Language, German, Latin, Ancient Greek, Arabic, Chinese or Hebrew.

Certain language classes are offered and available during different semesters. Students can take Spanish, Italian and French in the spring while German, Hebrew, Arabic, Latin, American Sign Language and Chinese are offered in the fall.

Not all students at YSU are required to take a foreign language course as part of their major. Most STEM majors do not have to take a foreign language, allowing them to focus more on science, technology, engineering and mathematics. According to the YSU website on foreign language testing, the only STEM majors required to take a foreign language are those studying astronomy, biology, chemistry, physics, geology and some individualized curriculum programs. 

Learning about a different culture can help students better understand and feel more connected to the world. Being open to experiencing a new language can have its challenges of restructuring one’s mindset about even the student’s native language. According to Diana Palardy, associate professor of Spanish, a student’s way of thinking and their viewpoint of the world expands with the knowledge they gain. 

“It helps give another perspective of the world, both culturally and linguistically,” Palardy said.  “It also helps people to understand their native tongues better, as it forces them to think of how a language is constructed and reflect on those parallel structures in their native language.” 

According to YSU’s department of English and world languages website, the department’s goal is to “educate citizens to use language effectively and to appreciate the history, diversity and complexity of their culture.” The website states it hopes to improve the student’s ability to speak, listen, think, read and understand diverse cultures. 

Jennifer Behney, associate Italian professor in the English and world languages department, said students learning to speak with others in a different language enables them to exchange information more easily. 

“It’s important for [students] to become global citizens who are able to communicate with people who are different from themselves and who are ready to travel or to work in situations, for example, online where they’re dealing with people from other parts of the world,” Behney said. 

Students with a language major are highly marketable and beneficial to potential employers, according to Palardy. 

“Students who major in a language can teach in high schools. Some of them go on to become translators and interpreters,” Palardy said. “Some students use their language skills in other types of jobs in which their bilingual skills are an additional asset.”

The TESOL, Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages program, is designed to educate and train students on how to teach English to those who speak only a foreign language. 

The students in the program become TESOL endorsed, which is an endorsement on licensure and enables them to teach any pre-K to 12th grade English learner in Ohio. 

The TESOL program can be considered a minor with six classes.