Point/counterpoint: The Arts language requirement

For: Moira Warburton, news editor

I could remind you that studying languages makes you smarter — studies show it’s a workout for your brain. I could also direct your attention to the fact that learning another language makes you richer, better able to focus on important information and allows you to stave off diseases like Alzheimer’s or dementia. Studies show that you don’t even need to be fluent to get the benefits of multilingualism.

But learning languages is more than that — it gives you intercultural understanding. It forces you to see the world from another point of view and isn’t that a fundamental part of going to university? To allow you, in a very small but significant way, to gain perspectives that your own upbringing didn’t give you? Regardless of what you do with your degree — whether you intend to travel after you finish, find a job working abroad or if you stay in the English-speaking part of Canada and never leave — learning a language is only good for you in the long run.

Don’t want to slog your way through French verbs? Not a fan of the myriad conjugations of German nouns? You didn’t come to university because it was going to be easy. You came because you wanted a learning experience that would challenge you, frustrate you and make you want to drown yourself in the library water fountain at times — but would, in the end, benefit you. We have 12 required credits of foreign languages as part of our degrees for the same reason we have all other degree requirements — because a university degree in Canada and at UBC is designed to make you a more well-rounded, empathetic and intelligent person. If you don’t want to be that person, don’t do a degree here.

Against: Jack Hauen, opinions editor

Ever notice how the only people defending the foreign language requirement are people who love learning languages?

UBC wants to make you a more well-rounded person by treating you like a child and there are people who fully support them. Their arguments usually sound something like, “But learning a language is good for you!” as if that was a good enough reason for students to take time away from their actual degree focus and endure the tedium of something they will forget immediately upon finishing the course. 

Why should UBC decide that you need to learn a language that has nothing to do with your degree focus, especially when there are concrete, obvious, frighteningly common negative effects? It’s bullshit. 

Let’s dive into specific arguments I've heard:

It’ll enrich your worldview – True. You know what’ll do a way better job? A history course, but I don’t see anyone arguing for that to be made mandatory. This is a self-serving argument from people who love languages and will do anything to justify forcing everyone else to love them too.

It’ll make you more employable – Maybe. For careers focused on interacting with the public, it’s a definite asset. For any other job, it’s a fringe benefit – it paints you as able to stick with learning something like knowing how to code or being a black belt.

It’ll make you smarter – So will crosswords. You know what won’t make you smarter? Taking hours out of your day to study something that, for many, many students, will ultimately get them nothing but a direct increase in stress and a slightly lower GPA.

Undoubtedly, there are benefits to learning a second language. There are also benefits to doing yoga, reading every day and eating your vegetables, but until those make the requirements list for an Arts degree, all arguments for the requirement are null.

For some, learning a language comes naturally. For others, it is a dangerous brick wall that can seriously harm their chances of earning a degree. The fact of the matter is that UBC is treating us like children and it needs to stop.