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Revamping the learning of languages

Drake’s language program is undergoing changes to better prepare students for a bilingual world.

Though Drake University doesn’t require a foreign language for many of its majors, director of world languages Marc Cadd believes it’s in all students’ best interest to take a language.

“Fact is, many corporations pay bilingual employees more,” Cadd said. “People who work (for) Wells Fargo and are bilingual get paid more then anyone else. Same is true for pharmacists who speak Spanish.”

Cadd said year after year, the Spanish program remains the largest language program at Drake. Of the 168 students currently enrolled in a class for one of the seven languages, 47 of them are in Spanish.

Currently, Cadd is in the midst of a five-year plan he hopes will revamp the old language curriculum and add more students to the program.

More than 10 years ago, the language program at Drake looked substantially different. Not only did it offer majors and minors in languages, but it also encompassed far more language opportunities, including Hindi, Swahili and Italian.

Cadd said there was once a time at Drake that as long as two students wanted to take a language — any language, no matter how obscure — it was offered. However, the financial situation changed, and so did the program.

“The original program disbanded 11 years ago,” Cadd said. “And because some tenure track professors lost their jobs, the new program couldn’t look anything like the old one. Otherwise we’d have to hire back those who lost their jobs.”

Now Drake offers what Cadd calls more strategically chosen language options, those being Spanish, French, German, Japanese, Chinese, Arabic and Russian.

Cadd explained that Spanish, French and German are the standard languages and students are most likely to come to Drake having been taught one of those three in high school. Chinese, Japanese and Arabic, Cadd believes, are “part of the future,” and Drake has numerous connections within those languages.

Then there’s Russian.

Of the seven languages, it’s consistently had the lowest enrollment. While President David Maxwell was a professor of Russian, he’s told Cadd he’s fine with whatever happens to it.

“If, for financial reasons, something needed to be cut, it would probably be Russian,” Cadd said.

Provided that Drake can find the instructors for all seven of Drake’s foreign languages, there will be professors teaching classes on campus Monday and Wednesday in the fall — something that hasn’t happened since the original program dissolved.

This semester, some students enrolled in German, French and Russian had classes conducted via Adobe Connect — a program similar to Skype — with professors all over the Midwest.

“We’re not doing that this fall,” Cadd said. “As long as we can find the professors, they’ll be here.”

Another new aspect of the program is that there will also be classes on Fridays where students will meet with native speakers who will be trained to do conversation hours in groups of six or fewer.

“We don’t want students to go through two years and not be able to order from a menu,” Cadd said. “This should help.”
Cadd attributes the small language program — compared to other Division I Universities — to the fact that Drake has fewer language requirements than most other schools. The only programs that require a foreign language are international business, international relations, music, vocal performance and the three education endorsement areas.

However, students who took two years of a single language in high school are not required to take additional credits at Drake, meaning the number of students in those majors requiring a foreign language drops.

“Just under 50 percent of the students in the language program are in it because of the requirement,” Cadd said. “The other half takes languages because they want to.”

Cadd said 227 students enrolled in a foreign language last fall and 168 registered for this spring.

“We always lose a few from the fall to spring because students will have met their language requirements,” Cadd said.
Cadd is hoping the five-year plan will help boost numbers in the language department.

Unfortunately for students like junior journalism major Haley Mason, who studied Italian during her study abroad in Florence, Italy last fall, the five-year plan won’t include any additional languages — at least not yet.

“I’m still taking online courses in Italian because I’d like to go back to Florence and do another internship,” Mason said.Cadd said discussions with music and vocal performance professors, the latter have mentioned they want to see Italian added.

“Much of the classical repertoire resides in Italian song and operatic arias; therefore, it makes the most sense for vocal performance majors to study Italian,” said vocal performance professor Leanne Freeman-Miller. “This will also assist their preparation for graduate school. Therefore, we’re hopeful that Italian will be offered at Drake.”

However, Mason probably won’t see the program during her time at Drake. Cadd said the program could potentially be re-launched in two or three years, but would likely only be offered every other year.

“I hope students will realize that we’ve made a lot of changes in the last few years and are going to continue making changes,” Cadd said. “There is still some negativity circulating about how languages are done here. To every extent possible, we’ve addressed those.”

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