Sunday, January 25, 2009

Outsourcing My Education

There aren’t many GW students who willingly get up at 8am on a Saturday to walk to Dupont Circle for an extra class. Yesterday, I was one of them.

After three semesters of attempting to learn a foreign language and fulfill an Elliot School requirement, I was giving up on GW’s language department. Instead, I am now entrusting my basic Spanish education to a local foreign language institute.

My experiences at the language institute differed greatly from my experiences at GW’s language department. Like many GW students, I often have trouble registering for a section. You watch Gweb, beg the professor to sign you in, or occasionally play the “I need this class to graduate on time” card. Many students find there aren’t enough sections, and end up having a semester-long (or two) gap in their language studies.

Many language classes, especially in Romance languages, are filled with students at different proficiency levels. For example, in my Spanish 1 class there were three types of students:
  • Students (like me) who had never taken Spanish before
  • Students who had minimal exposure to the language in high school
  • Students who had spent years learning Spanish and cheated on the placement exam so they could get an easy A.
When this happens, the progress of students in the class becomes skewed, and it makes learning in an introductory language class difficult.

Perhaps the most difficult part of taking a language is the inconsistent course requirements. Some classes have a lot of graded assignments while others don’t, and it often isn’t clear what you’re supposed to turn in. Students at the same level often learn different things, a fact that becomes problematic if you have a department-wide final.

A quick trip to reveals that experiences within the language program varies greatly.

You have the good:
Senora is the nicest woman I’ve ever met. In that semester I learned more Spanish than my whole education. She took her time to stop, correct you, and wasn't afraid to call on everyone. I actually felt like we were a tight knit group by the end of the class. She has the biggest heart and will go out of her way to help anyone. TAKE HER CLASS

The so-so:
She is an excellent professor, only pitfall is that u sometimes leave the class unsure about what is due. She’s not always clear…has a lot homework.

And the bad:
He is basically the worst teacher I've ever had. He can sometimes be nice, but he plays favorites like crazy. He never collects or grades assignments, or IF he does, it’s totally at random... I also learned absolutely nothing in the class. Waste.

My class at the institute was a refreshing change compared to my experiences at GW. I didn’t have any problem getting into the class, course expectations were made clear from the beginning of the class, and everyone in the class was basically at the same level. Aside from learning a lot, I also had fun during class and I’m looking forward to returning back next week.

In such a globalized world, learning another language is a growing asset. Being fluent in another language opens up numerous job possibilities, especially if you’re willing to live abroad. As a large university that emphasizes being prepared for the realities after graduation, GW needs to improve its foreign language program.


lucy ross said...

I've actually been looking to take spanish courses outside of GW. What institute is this?

Neha said...

I take classes at the International Language Institute in South Dupont. They're located at 1337 Connecticut Ave, NW on the 4th Floor. They offer everything from Albanian to Vietnamese.