There’s a joke that says: “What do you call a person who knows two languages? Bilingual. What do you call a person who knows three languages? Trilingual. And what do you call a person who knows only one language? An American.”

While there are citizens of many countries who know two or more languages, the United States shows little sign of changing its monolingual ways. Less than nine percent of those enrolled in higher education today are studying a foreign language, according to Albert Kipa, professor laureate of Muhlenberg College’s Department of Languages, Literature and Cultures.

Department Head Dr. Joan Marx

Muhlenberg is proud to count its students as being among that small percentage. All have the opportunity to learn any of seven languages offered by one of the largest departments on campus, according to Department Head Joan Marx, who is also a graduate of the College (Class of 1977).

“Mastery of another language is a vital skill, not only for communication with other people, but it is also a way to master your own language,” Marx said.

“Also, and even more importantly, the knowledge of other cultures and appreciation for those of other heritages is crucial for tolerance and understanding in the world today.”

Muhlenberg’s language department has grown vastly since Marx arrived as a Spanish professor in 1984. The Spanish program, in particular, has flourished, more than quadrupling in size in the last 20 years.

All students are required to complete two courses in the same language unless they are able to show proficiency adequate to prepare students for the Conversation and Composition course in the language. Initial placement in language study at Muhlenberg is dependent upon experience and placement test results as recommended by the Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures.

Last year, 14 full-time and seven part-time faculty members taught more than 600 students; in addition, 150 students were either majoring or minoring in French, Russian, German and Spanish. Those wishing to study other languages have the option of taking courses in Hebrew, Italian and Latin. In the past, professors have also offered Arabic and Chinese through the Wescoe School.

Spanish is by far the most popular language, due to the large number of native speakers in the U.S. and the rest of the world, Marx said. The department serves up to 500 students per semester.

From left to right are Dr. Albert Kipa, professor laureate of German and Russian; Anna Marmaros ’04; GaryLee Schaefer; Karen McGovern ’04; Elizabeth Karen Smith; and Dr. Franz Birgel, associate professor of German, after the last initiation ceremony for Delta Phi Alpha, the German honor society. Anna and Karen were outstanding undergraduate students; GaryLee and Elizabeth Karen are students in the Wescoe School who, after many years in other professions, decided to return to college to pursue their goals of becoming German teachers.

Most students choose a language major as part of a double major, then continue their post-college education in such professional programs as medicine, law, psychology and business, said Marx, who also heads the Spanish program. Still others take jobs as teachers.

“One of my Spanish majors is now in the CIA learning Farsi [a language spoken in the Middle East], which was possible because of her facility in Spanish,” Marx said.

Senior Stephanie Krauss, a political science and Spanish double major, is applying to law school. Upon completion, Krauss is considering practicing law in Spain to help victims of domestic violence, which she noticed was a big problem while studying abroad there last year.

Krauss said that learning another language has helped her in many ways.

“You can use it in almost everything you do,” she said. “For instance, my memory is wonderful because I’ve been able to take a language and study it and memorize and engrain it in my mind.”


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