C’est vrai that the Foreign Language Centre offers students the opportunity to take modules of up to 30 credits at all levels from beginners to advanced. But is variation from our main discipline really a sehr gut idea? Or does FLC modularity just present us with more time for siesta-ing in the library?
First is the question of whether by the end of FLC modules, you can legitimately claim to be able to speak your target language. Well, in theory, yes (oui / sí / ja / sì). This is reflected by the fact that if you take 60 credits over two years, you can change your degree title to include ‘with proficiency in’ and your chosen language.
But as with any module, this probably depends on how committed you are. The one term that I took a Beginner’s German module (admittedly not at Exeter), I could have spent more time outside of class reading newspaper articles, reviewing grammar, watching films and doing all the other immersive stuff that really accelerates language proficiency. Which is almost definitely why to this day, the only German phrases I can say with confidence are “can I drink mulled wine there?” (essential), “how was your shower?” (conversational, so potentially useful) and “I love green beans” (I don’t have any strong feelings about green beans, so 100% useless).
Having said all that, with FLC modularity the odds are in your favour. As the modules are built into your degree, you’re afforded the time it takes to throw yourself into active language learning as opposed to trying to balance it with a job or a postgrad. The contact hours are relatively intense- 3 or 4 hours per week for 30 credit modules – and the resources both in the library and FLC are extensive.
Students have every opportunity to intensively and effectively learn their target language; an opportunity which may be harder to come by after graduating.
Others worry that FLC modules take focus from your core subject, but I think that’s quite simply basura. Most faculties now offer the opportunity to take modules from other disciplines, recognising this as a chance for students to expand their academic interests and bring new understandings to their core subject. And taking a language is worth your time just as much as other areas of study, if not more so.
At the risk of sounding like your year 7 French teacher, learning a language at any level demonstrates a skill set so unique that it is likely to be very different from that which you use in your main degree discipline. It’s really a mixed bag, combining literature and linguistics as you learn vocabulary and develop sentence structures with an ability to think formulaically as you try to nail the grammar (especially German, Oh mein Gott).
What’s more, my experiences teaching English on my year abroad in Spain have made it clearer than ever to me that the *everyone speaks English anyway* attitude is really not good enough. Many of the students coming through the educational system now in Europe can speak foreign languages fluently as a given. On the other hand, in a 2015 survey by the British Council, 62% of Britons couldn’t speak any other languages besides English. Undeniably, we’re falling behind. A little demoralising to hear, maybe, but honestly, if you’d ever been stood in front of a class of Spanish six-year-olds enthusiastically reeling off English phrases like “the secondary sector produces manufactured products!” then you’d be running to the FLC quicker than you can say despacito.
So even if you don’t emerge from your FLC module as a fluent speaker, that’s not the point. In the UK we are in a frankly rare situation whereby foreign language skills at any level set you apart, and university is the perfect time to gain those skills. The chances are that taking an FLC modules will less have you saying, mamma mia! And more je ne regrette rien…bookmark me