At the present time Harvard enforces a set of language requirements for the express purpose of insuring every students' having a reading knowledge of at least one foreign language and an elementary knowledge of another before he is graduated from the College. The purpose is undeniably laudable; the actual results, however, are open to serious question.
Any one who has taken French 1, French 2, or German 1a, all deemed sufficient for a reading knowledge, knows that passing these courses may mean almost anything but a knowledge of French or German. It may mean a ready ability to use trots, to remember passages read over by some one else, to memorize certain books laboriously translated; but only incidentally will it mean a facility in reading French or German. Scarcely, if at all, better are the special language examinations. A little luck in hitting a passage seen somewhere before, a knack of guessing at words and construction under the pressure of necessity--these and other factors have aided a large number of students through language examinations who would flounder indignantly a month later in a fifty page assignment in the same languages.
Whether the ultimate remedy for the existing situation lies in tacking a stiff language clause on to the divisionals, or in going to the other extreme and carrying the test of linguistic ability back into the secondary schools cannot now be determined. There are two definite steps, however, which the CRIMSON would like to offer for immediate consideration. In the first place cut the requirement down from two languages to one and raise the standards in that one to a point which would insure more than a superficial knowledge of it. Secondly, in all elementary courses advisable give assignments requiring a sound reading knowledge of at least one language. Provision could be made in giving these assignments for students who had not yet satisfied the regular requirements; the others would be called on to exercise the ability they had exhibited in the language examinations and would also be made to realize the importance of foreign tongues in practically every field of study.
If it be found, however, that these or other measures fail to remedy the present linguistic deficiencies of the average Harvard student, the CRIMSON urges that Harvard frankly abandon the existing pretense that all her graduates are versed in any language other than English.