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Are international language courses an endangered species?

Fewer students are taking higher-level language courses

Author: carlos prieto – contributor

: Fewer language courses are being offered while our international student base rises. / Haley Klassen
Fewer language courses are being offered while our international student base rises. / Haley Klassen

As the University of Regina’s department of international languages decreases in students, it is also suffering from significant cuts to its budget. The department, which offers four different degrees along with courses in three other languages, has suffered major losses in funding allocations from the University. In recent years, international languages has reduced the number of courses offered due to cuts to the stipend budget for hiring sessional lecturers.

Bruce Plouffe, head of the department, said it is always a struggle to get any allocation of stipends for the department.

“Usually the allocation for us is zero, and through negotiation I have to make a case every time, and sometimes we are successful,” he said.

Students from the faculty of arts are required to take two language courses, and both must be in the same language. Plouffe considered this as to why upper level courses have lower demand than the basic levels.

The most popular program in the department, Chinese, used to have 35 students enrolled in the major two years ago, whereas it now only has 31 students. Japanese had over 20 students, but now is only taken by 15.

The enrollment is a criteria used in some cases by the University to allocate funds. Language courses, due to the pedagogy put in practice, are not designed to support a large number of students, which gives the department a disadvantage against others.

“You have to be faced with someone who says ‘You’re not teaching enough students. We are not getting enough bang for our buck,’” said Plouffe, who at the same time considers the current dean of the faculty of arts and the budget committee to be very understanding of the situation of the department.

Some science departments receive a larger share of the University budget because of their large classes. Plouffe, who understands the point that more students equal more money for the University, argues that languages are an essential part of the University’s essence. To him, a university needs a department of languages as much as it needs one of philosophy or anthropology.

The department is currently trying to survive. Even though the University understands how important its existence is, the management of the funds for the department, Plouffe believes, are slowly leading to its disappearance.

The department cannot replace retired professors, and so the numbers of courses offered are gradually decreasing. Starting next year, there will be fewer courses offered in German due to Plouffe’s retirement, as he teaches three courses per year, and will not be replaced

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One comment

  1. There are at least a few other points worth mentioning (I’m an intl languages major: German). ‘scuse the ranting….

    First, one consequence of budget shortages is that the tutoring program in the department was cancelled roughly 2 years ago (I think). This used to pay senior students to tutor junior students, similar to TA office hours in other departments. This is no longer available, which hurts pretty much everyone. Senior students had the benefit of learning through teaching, developing their teaching skills (many language people go on to do language teaching), and making a bit of money during the semester. Junior students were able to get the practice they need to improve their speaking skills. Most importantly, it weakened the student-student and student-department links.

    Second, the decrease in funding and corresponding failure to replace professors has the practical result that not only are the options for courses severely limited but so to is the ability to finish your degree within a certain amount of time. With many other majors, you can switch to it after a year or two of classes and still be able to finish within 4 years, in some cases because courses are offered multiple times per year but also because more courses are offered during the summer. With international languages, you pretty much have to be in that track from the get-go.

    Third, it is not as if the department does not do well. To take one example, the Chinese department is actually quite strong, with students placing well in a recent translation competition: http://www.uregina.ca/external/communications/feature-stories/current/fs-03312014.html

    Last, I just want to emphasize how central language is to the richest understanding that you can have. I’m also a philosophy major and I am better able to understand Kant, Heidegger, and others because I know at least some German. The same thing can be said about Latin and Greek, which pops up all over the place in Academia. Mandarin is the fastest growing language in the world, and it is handy to have at least some language skills in your pocket if you ever want to travel. As the world becomes more and more global, knowing more than English is a way to make yourself valuable in many ways, and it will open up more experiences to you.