Thursday, June 15, 2006


Our foreign languages department keeps running into the same issue over and over again, so I thought I’d see if the blogosphere has a solution.

Students who took, say, two years of Spanish in high school (and who just graduated high school) frequently sign up for Spanish 1 here, figuring that it will be an easy ‘A.’ More often than not, the students are bored out of their minds by the class, since they’ve already learned the material, and stop coming. Then they fail, and the complaints begin.

During advisement, advisors routinely ask students if they’ve taken a language in high school, but since advisors don’t have access to the high school transcripts, the students can lie with impunity. Many do, thinking they’re outsmarting the system.

For some reason, languages seems to be the only department for which this is a major issue. I haven’t seen this kind of behavior in, say, math, where a student might have already had trig in high school. (It’s a nonissue in the subject areas high schools don’t teach.)

There’s a related issue of native (or semi-native) speakers taking classes in their own language. There, too, it’s tough to catch, and many of the students are in a peculiar position of having good vocabulary but terrible written grammar, or of mixing (say) Spanish with English such that they don’t especially master either. But they don’t study, since they assume it will be a cakewalk, and then fail.

Has anyone out there found an effective way to deal with these issues? I’d love to place every student appropriately in the first place, but the information to do that isn’t always available. And a student who perceives an incentive can easily bomb a placement test, if she just wants the ‘easy’ level. Anything helpful would be appreciated!