deans-corner-3.pngWelcome to the College of Arts & Letters Dean's Corner, where Dean Karin Wurst shares news, thoughts, and views on issues related to the arts and humanities. Here we focus on the present conditions of the liberal arts, and more importantly, the future steps we are taking to successfully create an environment that is innovating and inspiring for all.

Why Study Languages?

by Dean Karin Wurst, March 2014

Language learning remains important for liberal arts education and job readiness. Study in language, literature, and culture is a defining feature of liberal arts education given that language arts and literacy are key qualifications for full participation in social, political, economic, and cultural life. As we know and employers have recently confirmed, the hallmarks of a liberal education—communication, critical analysis, and creativity/innovation—are more important than ever as prerequisites for success in life and work. Increasingly, successful lives have to be forged in global environments.

A college education should develop students’ abilities to think critically and analytically and to communicate knowledge and understanding effectively. It is well understood that the skills underlying these abilities require constant practice and should form the base of the undergraduate experience across all disciplines. Language classes (in English and in a foreign language) are especially meaningful for honing these skills due to their relatively small size. Frequent interactions invite students to formulate arguments orally and in writing while at the same time developing historical and comparative perspectives.  

Just as classes on the English language and in rhetoric and writing, foreign language instruction does not focus on the mechanics of language in isolation, but instead deals with the language as a culturally embedded practice that is by implication comparative. The attention on societies and cultures over time that come into play in language classes helps to prepare an informed global citizen by engaging with perspectives different from their own. After all, the global economy and our ethnically diverse society require citizens and employees who understand other peoples and contexts.

One of the great strengths of the humanities is the insistence of a critical analysis of the past and present by attending to the globally varied narrated, visualized, and embodied symbolic dimensions of human aspirations. Delving into other languages and obtaining a sense of the experiences of others, understanding, in turn, how we are seen through the eyes of others rank among the most powerful means available for accomplishing the goals of liberal education and contributing to students’ personal and intellectual development. Our businesses, non-profits, and governmental agencies need abilities to collaborate and cooperate with international partners and to comprehend and communicate in different ways with people who think and behave differently from ourselves in the US and abroad.