On language learning at Fletcher

The “news” of the change in Fletcher’s foreign language requirement is maybe not really news to a lot of readers by now. The official announcement of the change in policy was made a week or so ago, and we’ve been in touch individually with a lot of incoming and current students since that time. For those to whom this is indeed still news, the core information is that Fletcher students will now have the option to demonstrate second language proficiency as an additional credential, rather than being required to do so in order to graduate.

In some ways this is a relatively small change in academic policy. The intellectual culture of the school will continue to emphasize and value second language comprehension, and the various ways Fletcher students pursue language study and exposure – course audits, intensive summer study, online instruction, peer-to-peer conversation, immersion experiences during breaks – will remain available. For those students wishing to demonstrate and document second language competency, the current oral and written language exams will remain available. It’s fair to note, though, that the change will affect individuals in different ways. Many international students, for example, have effectively always been required to demonstrate second language proficiency (i.e. English) as an entrance requirement, a fact that will remain unchanged.

So why the change, and why now? Fletcher has always been a place that encourages and expects its students to be experts in knowing what skill sets and competencies they need to develop to achieve their professional objectives. It’s one of the reasons we emphasize the value of prior professional experience in our admissions process: a professional foundation puts students in touch with areas they need to prioritize to move forward in their careers. This means different things for different people, and it’s been clear for some time that plenty of students are on career trajectories for which language proficiency is a less critical need. There are also a fair number of students who are fluent heritage speakers of a language in which they have little or no reading or writing comprehension; students fluent in regional or less-common languages for which little administrative support or expertise is available either at Tufts or in Boston; and students from backgrounds that afforded little to no opportunity for foreign language immersion experiences nor the ongoing instruction needed to establish a strong foundation. For all these folks, the requirement had become an exercise in administrative box-checking that was proceeding inconsistently across the student body. To put it in Fletcher-speak, too many students were being forced to show an output without necessarily achieving an outcome.

For many other students, foreign language competency will remain a critical professional skill to develop, and a variety of proposals are currently being developed to integrate language study more closely into various curricular pathways at Fletcher. There’s also a strong argument to be made that a baseline of foreign language comprehension is a crucial element in the portfolio of a well-rounded international practitioner in a variety of scholarly fields and professional sectors. For an institution that has long prized curricular flexibility and a capacity to meet the widest possible range of student needs, these changes in policy are reflective of Fletcher’s DNA.

I encourage readers interested in further detail to check out both the Dean’s announcement about the change as well as the relevant section of FAQs about the fall 2020 semester (scroll toward the bottom).

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