Second language requirement in Arts a polarizing feature

In theory, the idea of the 12 required credits of foreign languages for the Faculty of Arts is one supported by most students — but the realities of making them required are problematic to many.

Serina Spaingreene, a fourth-year psychology major, sees both the pros and cons of the language requirement, which has been in place at UBC since 1915 and is a common feature of degrees from many universities.

“I think that’s a very positive experience for people because nowadays we need language to get into jobs, but also because we’re becoming more international, global every single day,” said Spaingreene. “But I think to have it required is very difficult … I really feel like it’s a tuition grab sometimes.” 

For international students like Spaingreene, achieving 12 credits for the language requirement at around $900 per credit equates to nearly $11,000 in tuition costs.

Other students view the language requirement as a positive opportunity for intercultural understanding.

“I personally think that everyone should go through the effort to learn a foreign language,” said Kris Liu, a first-year Arts student intending to major in linguistics. “I kind of like how UBC is pushing toward the fact that they want you to go out there and try to explore different cultures. I like how UBC is encouraging diversity in that sense.”

Stefania Burk, associate dean academic for the Faculty of Arts, believes that foreign languages are a fundamental knowledge base for students with an Arts degree to have, although she can see the disadvantages as well.

“It’s an incredible way of learning about a different culture,” said Burk. “It’s hard for me to argue that studying a foreign language is bad for you, but I can see how it might be an obstacle for some students, especially now since there are so many other opportunities being offered.”

Jenna Omassi, AMS VP academic and university affairs, agrees with Burk. “[The requirement] is meant to ensure that students are truly well-rounded ... and that they can come out of UBC with potentially a new language or even elementary proficiency in a new language,” she said.

I think that’s a very positive experience for people because nowadays we need language to get into jobs … But I think to have it required is very difficult.

— Serina Spaingreene, fourth-year psychology major

According to Burk, when the requirement was first established, students were mostly monolingual and it made sense to have it. Seeing the influx of bilingual students at UBC, however, Burk suggests that there should be reconsideration for the rationale behind the requirement.

Echoing Burk’s response, Omassi said that the Faculty of Arts is looking to change degree requirements overall. One of the things they are looking to do is tailoring requirements to the theme of programs and departments rather than having “blanket requirements.”

Although the benefits of studying a foreign language are clear to Burk, she said the discussion around requirements is ongoing.

“There’s a general understanding that it’s time to have that conversation,” said Burk. “I think we’re really at a starting point to think about all the requirements — not that just this one— and make sure the whole community understands why we have them ... and [to] have a discussion around any changes that might or might not happen.”