As the new semester has begun, many students, mostly freshmen, are taking their foreign language courses, which are mandatory liberal arts courses for all Ewha students. However, students have been constantly raising voices of concern regarding what they considered the lack of a coherent educational system to deal with varying levels of students’ language skills. Ewha Voice delved into the hightening student complaints regarding foreign language courses.
The core issue of this concern is that while each student’s language competence varies significantly, the established courses do not reflect the differences effectively. Many students argue that it is unfair to take the same lecture and exams with those who have studied the language beforehand. On the other hand, some students who have learned the language before also complained on the language courses, stating that they should also be able to register classes that fit for their level.
Foreign language courses have been made mandatory since 2009. In 2013, the school reorganized the system by dividing the courses into two, requiring students to take two semesters of their chosen foreign language (except for students of a few departments such as Natural Sciences).
Each semester, generally more than 10 classes are offered for each language course. Among these 10 classes, some professors only accept students who have not learned the language before. Such measure is needed to separate beginners from the others and provide adequate levels of education. However, the problem is that there is no system that can deter those who already learned the language from registering in the beginner’s course. Also, there is no clear guideline or policy that can effectively divide students into different levels.
“I was new to French, so it was difficult to learn the pronunciation and keep up with the class,” said a senior majoring in International Studies, who completed her French courses last year. “But there were several students in my class who already had perfect French pronunciation. A lot of my friends, even those who are fluent in a certain foreign language, registered in the beginner course to earn higher grades.”
However, those who have prior knowledge also complain about the fairness of the course system.
“I registered for the advanced French class because I learned it for a few months,” said a freshman majoring in International Studies. “Although I signed up for the right level, the instructor strictly recommended to move to a class taught by a native professor. I thought it was unfair to pressure students to sign up for another class just because they have prior knowledge. Though I did not change my class, I am worried that this decision will negatively affect my grade.”
Others criticize the inefficiency of the curriculum for the advanced foreign language course.
“I registered for the advanced Chinese I class, but it started with learning the Chinese alphabets and basic pronunciation,” said another freshman studying International Studies. “As the ‘advanced’ class, the curriculum was not wisely devised in that most students who are taking this course have already learned the basics. There is no point distinguishing the advanced and beginners class if they teach the same thing.”
Instructors also experience such inconvenience.
“I’ve often realized the gap between fore-learners and beginners in my class,” said Professor Lee Ok-joo of the Chinese language course. “Those who have prior experience are easily recognizable and I try to grade them a little harshly for the sake of fair grading.”
However, professor Lee explained why it is hard to fix the situation.
“Since most students register the courses before entering the school, it is unrealistic to make all of them go through a level test,” Lee said. “Thus, making a more sharply leveled class division for a wide spectrum of students’ language skills is necessary. However, because the number of instructors and classrooms just barely manages the current curriculum, it is not likely that any change will soon be made.
Unfortunately, the school also shows a helpless response.
“There is practically no alternative as of now,” said an official from the College of Liberal Arts. “But we will try to hear and relieve students’ complaints.”