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Photo: Sam Holland

As students make the final tweaks to their spring semester schedules, some have noticed a discrepancy among language courses in terms of fulfilling General Requirements. 

For the upcoming semester, there are 13 of 26 Spanish courses and seven of 23 French courses that fulfill College requirements other than the Foreign Language requirement. 

For example, both the French course "Perspectives in French Literature: The Individual and Society" and the Spanish course "Introduction to Literary Analysis" fulfill the Arts and Letters Sector as well as the Cross-Cultural Analysis requirement. 

However, of the 19 Chinese courses offered, none fulfills any general education requirements apart from the Foreign Language requirement. Additionally, of the 10 Japanese courses and the eight Korean courses offered by the East Asian Languages and Civilizations Department, none fulfills any additional College requirement.

Photo: Anna Lisa Lowenstein

Undergraduate Chair of the EALC department David Spafford said language courses in the EALC department do not fulfill requirements because they focus on language. 

Many Romance language courses, however, also focus on primarily on language but still fulfill other College requirements, whereas the only EALC courses that fulfill those same requirements are taught in English.

Spafford acknowledged the confusion this might provoke among students but said the reason for this discrepancy is that many Romance language courses are not taught in English but often teach material that counts toward other sector requirements.

For example, "Texts and Contexts" — which fulfills both the Humanities and Social Science Sector and the Cross-Cultural Analysis requirement — is taught in Spanish, but covers material related to Hispanic culture, geography, and history.

“So, a course that is marked Spanish can be both a content class and a language class. For us, that is not the case," he said.

Nonetheless, some students and professors have questioned the way that Penn evaluates which courses qualify as fulfilling requirements and which do not. 

Professor Maiheng Dietrich teaches the first-year program of Chinese as well as higher-level Chinese courses. Dietrich said Chinese 412, a Chinese literature course, is one example of a course that does include a literary analysis component but does not fulfill any sector requirement. In comparison, several Spanish and French literature courses do fulfill other requirements, such as Arts and Letters and Cross-Cultural Analysis.

“From my personal perspective, I want these courses to count towards other College requirements,” Dietrich said. “I think that is the right direction, and it is really the fair thing to do.”

Dietrich acknowledged that because Chinese is such a difficult language to learn, there is always an additional emphasis on the language itself. She said, however, that once students reach a certain level, she expects they would be ready to handle literary and analytical elements. 

College junior Alyssa Yun satisfied the Foreign Language requirement before arriving to Penn and has been taking Chinese courses since her freshman year. Since then, none of her five Chinese credits has counted toward any sector requirement. These courses have only filled up her elective slots.

“Had I known that lower-level French counted for sector requirements," Yun said, "I would’ve taken French instead of Chinese.”

College junior Jacob Anderson, who has been taking Chinese to fulfill his EALC minor, made similar remarks.

“I could maybe keep my second job the second half of this year if I could’ve taken one or two classes fewer for my EALC minor,” he said.

Anderson noted that he will now have to take psychology and sociology courses next semester to fulfill requirements that he said probably should have been fulfilled by some of the Chinese courses he’s taken previously.

“There’s no clear reason to students for a survey class to be required after taking high-level courses that seem to cover similar material,” Anderson said. 

There is a process through which departments can petition for certain courses that they offer to count toward a certain sector requirement. However, the EALC department faces a limit on the number of its courses that can count toward a requirement, Spafford said. 

College and Wharton sophomore Aiden Reiter, who plans on studying abroad next fall, wanted to take a high-level Chinese literature course this coming spring that would satisfy sector requirements as well. Reiter said he was surprised to find that Chinese courses as a whole do not, but literature courses in Spanish and French do, and when he tried to petition, he faced several obstacles.

“Penn’s curriculum committee is way too slow and opaque to actually address inconsistencies within their own course materials,” Reiter said.

College sophomore Hugh Reynolds said he placed out of the foreign language requirement for Chinese before school but was set on continuing to learn the language.

“I was never going to do Spanish or French, so I didn’t even look at what they fulfilled," Reynolds said. "I just assumed that all languages didn’t fulfill those [requirements]."

He added that although there is a strong appeal for Chinese courses to fulfill sector requirements, he acknowledged the steep learning curve that comes with learning Eastern languages. 

"In a perfect world, I think it would really be great for it to fulfill the requirements I needed, but I don’t really see how it could be done.” 

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