Languages expand minors

By David Hertz

Administrators may be looking for ways for the college to cut back in the economic downturn, but Macalester’s language programs are still expanding.The Hispanic Studies and Asian Languages and Cultures departments are developing plans for new minor pathways for Portuguese and Chinese. The new Chinese Language and Culture minor was approved at the February faculty meeting and is currently available. The Hispanic Studies minor will be available starting next fall.

Professors Leila Lehnen in Hispanic Studies and Xin Yang in Asian Language and Culture, helped write recommendations for their departments’ new minors. Both cited the growing importance of their languages and increased student interest as reasons for the change.

“Brazil is becoming a bigger player in the global economy, and with this whole global outlook, it’s a very interesting country to study,” Lehnen said. “Brazil is the 10th largest economy, and with China, India, and Russia. [it] is named as one of the four emerging economies by Goldman Sachs. I believe that in the future the U.S. will have to engage more with Brazil.”

Yang phrased her reasoning succinctly. “I don’t have to tell you how important learning Chinese language right now is,” she said.

Increased student interest was also a factor, according to Lehnen. Last year’s Introduction to Portuguese course had to be split because so many students enrolled, and Portuguese-speaking Brazil had attracted the most students studying abroad from Macalester last semester, she said.

Enrollment in Chinese language courses has also increased, according to Yang. Nineteen students enrolled beginning Chinese in Fall 2003, while 39 enrolled this fall.

“Generally there is a demand for learning Chinese right now,” Yang said, citing popularity of Macalester Chinese classes at nearby colleges like St. Thomas, an increase in Twin Cities high schools teaching Chinese language and greater interest from Macalester students.

An additional tenure-track professor will be hired to help develop the Chinese minor, bringing the number of tenure-track professors teaching Chinese language to two. Yang designed two new courses when she arrived at Macalester last year, and will offer an additional course related to the Chinese minor pathway starting next fall.

The Hispanic Studies department will be adding three new classes next fall for the new minor pathway. In addition to the two semesters of language offered, students will be able to take two topics courses and a literature class in Portuguese, according to Lehnen.

“My particular interest is literary and cultural studies, so this minor is going to reflect that as long as I’m at Macalester,” Lehnen said. “I would like to work with issues of social justice, reflecting the issues that Macalester students do have. And Brazil does has quite a wealth of materials on social justice.”

Despite the growth, language programs are still limited. Both Lehnen and Yang say their departments would like to turn the new minors into majors eventually. Yang says she regularly gets emails from students asking if Chinese will be made into a major at Macalester. However, current economic conditions make that impossible, according to Lehnen.

“At the moment, for various reasons, its not a necessity, or even really a possibility,” Lehnen said.