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Seattle Times letters to the editor

March 18, 2009 at 1:55 PM

Foreign language requirements

University of Washington offers a clarification

Thank you for your coverage of recent changes to the University of Washington’s foreign-language requirement [“Foreign languages take higher-education hit,” Local News, March 13], and for your editorial support for the importance of foreign-language study [“Speaking to the world,” Opinion, March 17]. I am writing to clarify several points.

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Undergraduates with three or more years of a foreign language in high school will now meet the UW’s language-proficiency requirement without having to pass a test. We hope this change will encourage more students to take a third year of high-school language. Many high schools have welcomed this change for that reason.

This change does not lessen the importance of language study. Rather, it provides an additional way for students to meet our requirement. The UW’s admissions requirement (two years of high-school language study) remains unchanged. Students who took only two years of high-school language must take and pass a proficiency exam, or take first-year language classes at the UW.

We made this change based on solid national data from the University of Oregon, which shows that students with three years of high-school foreign language achieve the same levels of proficiency as students who complete one year of college language. This change does not “water down” our requirement. It allows us to focus our resources on advanced language instruction and on less-commonly-taught languages, such as Chinese, Arabic and Urdu, rather than first-year Spanish and French.

It is also important to note that we have not cut the foreign-language departments’ budgets more heavily than other parts of the College of Arts and Sciences. In these financially challenging times, our priority across the university is to minimize, as much as we can, the impact of the state’s budget cuts on our students’ education. This change in how we assess foreign-language proficiency is a responsible way to do that. We will continue to teach first-year classes in more than 50 different languages, including Spanish and French, and to emphasize the importance of language study to the future of our state and region.

— Robert Stacey, University of Washington Divisional Dean of Arts and Humanities, College of Arts and Sciences, Seattle

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