Among Princeton’s general education requirements is foreign language proficiency, which, according to Office of the Dean of the College, encourages students to “become literate in another culture and gain another perspective on the world.” Though the A.B. minimum requirement calls for the completion of a beginner’s language track (three or four courses up to the 107/108 level) or the demonstration of proficiency via Advanced Placement, SAT Subject or departmental placement tests, many students go beyond the minimum requirement by pursuing additional languages at Princeton. These ambitious students, however, face significant disincentives to their budding polyglotism: students cannot take most beginner’s language courses on a pass/D/fail basis, and the University does not give credit for taking a 101-level language class without the subsequent 102-level course. These two barriers counter the intellectual spirit of Princeton. All students should be able to receive credit for 101-level language classes, and, as the Board has previously advocated, students who have already completed their language requirement should be able to take introductory level language courses on a P/D/F basis.
The language requirement is distinct from other distributional areas in that it requires not mere passing but proficiency in a language, a standard above the norm of distributional requirements. This idea extends into the day-to-day classroom sphere as well: since initial language learning is a skill that requires significant and continued effort, the graded basis of introductory language courses adds additional incentive and motive for students to keep pace with the course and reach the same end goal of proficiency. This effort is noticeable in the small setting of introductory language classes. Capped at 12 students per section, these five-day-a-week classes can easily become slowed down when one student fails to be prepared, adversely impacting the remaining students. This can create a perpetual cycle: students who fail to prepare are less likely to speak out in class for fear of embarrassment and will continue to fall behind.
However, those who have already attained proficiency or mastery of a second language fall beyond the scope of these worries. The student wishing to begin an additional language does so out of pure intellectual curiosity and commitment (or, granted to fulfill departmental prerequisites or requirements, in which case the course must be taken for a grade anyway, and is thus beyond the scope of this policy change). Only students with this motivation would choose to take generally difficult classes that meet every weekday; thus the motivation of these students implies they will commit the effort necessary to learn the new language. Moreover, the ability to take the course on a P/D/F basis encourages their classroom participation. Without the fear of being graded on the letter scale, students are more likely to try things in class and are more likely to let themselves fail, an important part of any language learning process.
Moreover, credit for 101-level courses would greatly incentivize this process of trying and intellectual curiosity. These language courses are significant enough, both in terms of time commitment, in and out of the classroom, and difficulty, especially for students who have yet to attain language proficiency, that giving credit for these courses is justified. However, the refusal to give credit for the 101-level course makes the choice of language overly significant. If a student begins a language but finds after the 101-level that the choice was wrong and thus does not continue with the language, that semester of effort and learning is disregarded. Forcing that student to continue to the 102-level just to receive a semester’s worth of already-earned credit would ultimately dampen the discussion: that student is all but guaranteed to dislike the class. However, to give credit for 101-level language courses is to allow intellectually curious students to try new languages without the fear of wasting a course. Students can try new languages, and if they decide that their choice was wrong, they can bow out gracefully.
Multilingualism helps students further develop skills necessary to have a global perspective. Even brief exposure to other languages has tangible benefits for students in all disciplines to improve this perspective. Consequently, a student’s quest for increased exposure to foreign languages should not be hampered. By removing the no-credit policy for 101-level language courses and the P/D/F restrictions imposed on most language courses for students who have already demonstrated second-language proficiency, the University will support students who strive to be “in the service of all nations.”
While credit should be awarded on a per-semester basis, allowing students to P/D/F language courses hinders learning for other students.
The P/D/F option will decrease a student's motivation to prepare for classes regularly and consistently. Sure, it can be argued that students who take courses past the language requirement are motivated and curious. However, since it's natural for P/D/F courses to be a low priority, even intellectually motivated students can fall behind when their workload is heavy or when they have extra-curricular commitments. In classes such as Elementary Chinese, the graded weekly quizzes and tests ensure that students regularly review and prepare. Without the pressure from feeling the impact of these grades, students would be less incentivized to study rigorously.
Since these small language classes are interactive by nature, a student's lack of preparedness can affect the learning of other students. When some students are unprepared to answer questions, it slows down the class and prevents the instructor from quickly moving through new material. In a short 50-minute session, every minute counts.
Besides, it benefits these intellectually curious students to take graded classes since language courses are very different from other P/D/F-able courses where one can catch up on the work at a later time or skim readings. To really work toward proficiency, students must make a consistent effort. The current grading system encourages this.
Signed, Cydney Kim ‘17
TheEditorial Boardis an independent body and decides its opinionsseparately from the regular staff and editors of the ‘Prince.’ The board answers only to its Chair, the Opinion Editor and the Editor-in-Chief.