Language courses need more conversational speech practice

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Photo Credit: Ely German | Daily Texan Staff

Learning a new language is hard. Speaking it tends to be even harder. Foreign languages provide students with many advantages, such as a competitive edge in job hunting, a more global worldview and the opportunity to travel without having to worry about a language barrier. 

That is, if the student is able to retain the knowledge learned in their courses. 

In order to make the core language requirement more beneficial to students, the University of Texas language department needs to work toward implementing more spoken practice into their curriculum. 

An important factor contributing to the retention of English is a high amount of conversational practice after beginning to study the language.

David Barny, French and Italian assistant instructor, agrees that practicing speech is vital to learning a language as it allows students to understand their coursework on their own terms. 

“The meaningful aspect of conversation is what helps your progress,” Barny said about his experience learning English as a second language and teaching French. “I remember so many words and grammar aspects that I finally understood because I was in the context of immersion.” 

“I wasn’t doing an exercise, I wasn’t practicing with a student because the teacher asked me to,” Barny said. “I was engaged in a situation that mattered to me, and where the language was a tool to complete a goal. That’s where the immersion has the strongest effect.” 

Learning a language is intimidating. It is a long process with no shortage of complications, even without considering verbal communication. However, just like anything else, the more a student practices speaking, the more comfortable it becomes. 

“They mostly teach us to talk about the topics in our textbook, but when it comes to actually talking to people like you would with your friends, I feel like it’s kind of hard,” psychology sophomore Kate Kirchmer said about her experience taking Spanish courses at UT. “I know fancy words, but not everyday language — it makes me nervous because I don’t feel like I can say everything that I’m thinking.”

The UT language curriculum needs to include authentic, conversational speech in addition to the spoken practice outlined by the course materials. This will make students feel more comfortable expressing their thoughts in a way that is meaningful to them. 

Implementing more authentic speech doesn’t require one specific plan of action. “I personally think that we can do more to promote French immersion in different ways,” said Barny. “I would really like to show movies. I see that we’re not doing that here, and I would like to start. I don’t know why we don’t have a movie program.”

There is no unique solution to this problem. Outside of language courses, UT hosts weekly extracurricular practice meetings for a handful of languages that the school offers. Students can attend these meetings to further their speaking abilities. 

Professors could incentivize students to attend these meetings by offering exemptions from quizzes or homework assignments or by extending due dates. This way professors do not have to stray from the required curriculum, and students are more motivated to learn and retain languages.

Foreign languages are an essential part of education, and our curriculum ought to treat them that way. 

Lazaroski is an international relations and global studies sophomore from Dallas.