According to a recent article from Inside Higher Ed reports, foreign languages are becoming a thing of the past. There is no need to worry, however. This trend is not the result of language extinction or even of the rise of English as a global lingua franca. No, instead this trend – borne out by a diverse array of language departments at colleges and universities across the country – is the result of cultural change. Many institutions are instead finding new ways to talk about the same departments. Thus, slowly but surely the very language we use to talk about language is changing and many colleges have transformed their foreign language departments into world language departments.
There are many reasons for this shift but one of the major factors behind the switch appears to be the pejorative connotations of the word “foreign” itself. In the eyes of many administrators the word too easily facilitates a division of the world into two parts – Us and Them – which is just as outdated on today’s increasingly international college campuses as it is in the global market itself. This idea is particularly galling given the fact that the country’s most popular “foreign” language, Spanish, is becoming less foreign by the day. From Miami to Manhattan and San Antonio to San Diego, Spanish is already widely spoken in many parts of the country and is projected to continue this growth in the years to come.
These changes in world language departments mirror similar changes in English language departments. Indeed, the English as a Second Industry itself is in the midst of a similar transformation. Where once EFL (English as a Foreign Language) dominated, it has since been edged out by ESL. At the same time, ESL is itself facing assault by proponents of ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages), EAL (English as an Additional Language), and EIL (English as an International Language) meaning that the final word on the subject has yet to be written – in any language.