Language Enrollment Caps

I discovered the other day that there are universities (very good, respectable universities in highly civilized areas of the North American continent) where enrollment in Spanish 101 courses is between 80 and 120 students per section. These are not online courses or MOOCs. Just regular language courses.

Since I keep bitching about how the cap of 25 students per language course we have here at my school is too high, I’m very puzzled. How does one teach 80 people at a time to speak a language? I once taught a classroom of 42 back in Canada, and that was simply ridiculous.

Question: what is wrong with these students that they just hand over their money and do not even try to protest?

12 thoughts on “Language Enrollment Caps

  1. They don’t know better. America is full of monolingual idiots who are just taking a foreign language to fulfill their distribution requirement for their degrees. They feel like they are just checking another box on the way to being credentialized. They don’t actually feel like they need fluency or competence to function in another language. Many are xenophobic and associate Spanish with being a lower class Mexican immigrant. [I just saw a t-shirt which said, “Welcome to America. Now speak English or get the hell out” on someone under 25.] Plus, many of these students have been in classes that are way too large all of their lives, and to them this is normal.

    In addition there’s a lot of anti-teacher,anti-professor and anti-union propaganda that they are swimming in. All of that militates against small class sizes. Small class sizes imply more well paid professors with rights and control over their curricula.


    1. There are few skills as marketable these days in North America than knowing how to speak Spanish. But if the students don’t see that and prefer to waste their money on enormous classrooms where languages are “taught”, one can hardly help them.

      I don’t want to say where this is happening because I don’t want to let down a colleague who has just been hired to work there but this is happening in one of the most civilized and cosmopolitan areas of the country.


  2. The caps at my school are 25, as well. I have absolutely no idea how anyone is supposed to learn a language in such a large class, either. Maybe it has something to do with the size of the school or the number of languages they offer at the 101 level? But that wouldn’t make much sense, because you would think that the larger the school, the more professors there would be at that level, because such a large number of students take the class. And at my–admittedly small–school, we offer about ten languages through at least three or four semesters. So there’s really no excuse for such large class sizes. Usually, everyone who wants to take a 101 language course in a given semester manages to get in just fine with the 25-student cap.


  3. This is completely insane to me. How can anyone learn a language in a giant class like that? Do they just listen to Rossetta Stone? I seriously don’t understand how this is possible!


    1. And imagine the grading process. You can’t include any oral component because who has time to listen to 80+ people speak even for 5 minutes each, so it all has to be in writing. But at this level they can’t write anything much, so what is left? Multiple choice? Fill in the blanks?


      1. “But at this level they can’t write anything much, so what is left? Multiple choice? Fill in the blanks?”
        I am sure it’s all multiple choice. And you are right, how can they speak with that many students? Maybe they have small “discussion sections” that break out from the course? I had those in my large undergrad college classes. For instance, something like Shakespeare might have 300 student and that met twice a week. But then once a week, it was required to have a discussion section, generally led by a grad student, of about 20 students. It worked with literature. But I still can’t quite see it working with a foreign language. really am curious to know what are the teaching practices that people use. I feel so sorry for the poor instructors saddled with this challenge.


        1. “Maybe they have small “discussion sections” that break out from the course?”

          – No, there isn’t even that. It is just one big lecture with a single person responsible for all of it. The person who will have to teach it is brilliant and will do the best he can but it is extremely frustrating that a talented educator is being forced to work in such self-defeating circumstances.


  4. This year I have 73 students in my Year-long Elementary Spanish section. The professor who taught that class last year said I was lucky because she had… 125. This has to change, but I just arrived at this institution so I cannot speak too loud.

    I am not optimistic at all about that class, but this is what I came up with to avoid working 100/week grading and to (perhaps) teach this students something in class:

    -quick quizzes, no exams;
    -attendance not required (to lower my numbers on a daily basis);
    -no individual writing tasks, only collective writing tasks (2 good students paired with two weaker ones);
    -no individual oral presentations;
    -use colour codes to create smaller groups of students in class, and jumping from one group to another

    It is not that rosy up north.


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