Student reflects on time spent studying language

Sydney Meaux, 21, of Lexington, Kentucky is a junior in the French program at WKU. “I don’t think Americans, in general, realize how crucial language is just because we’re lucky enough to have a language that’s widely spoken. It adds to the narcissism that other people see in us,” Meaux said. Matt Bevin, the new Republican Governor of Kentucky recently proposed a budget resulting in about 16 percent financial cuts in government funding for higher education. “There will be more incentives to electrical engineers than French literature majors. There just will,” Bevin said, regarding his decisions. The budget has not been approved yet, but it is expected to take WKU’s allocations from $74.6 million this year to $48.8 million in 2018.

Andrew Henderson

Chinese, French, Spanish and Latin. These were the four language choices Lexington junior Sydney Meaux had to choose between when she was required to learn a language in middle school.

Meaux said she found Latin boring, her mother was against her taking Chinese and seeing as she couldn’t roll her R’s, French was what she “stumbled into.” 

She said as she continued to learn the French language she was also able to learn the culture as well, and the cultural aspect was her favorite part as it allows her the opportunity to move past smaller details that you may encounter in French grammatical structure. 

“If you’re just talking about culture it’s kind of something you can also relate your own experiences to if you’re talking cross-culturally,” she said.

More recently, Gov. Matt Bevin stumbled into the world of French language and culture himself, albeit in a different way.

Bevin delivered his first budget proposal on Jan. 26 in which he called for a 9 percent reduction from postsecondary education allocations over the next two years. 

Furthermore, of that 9 percent cut, 4.5 percent will be implemented by executive order meaning WKU has until June 30 to cut what amounts to $3.4 million from the university’s operating budget. 

During his speech, he highlighted the vision he has for higher education funding in the state. His proposal is to switch to an outcomes-based funding model, which would reward funds from a collective pool of money based on performance criteria such as retention.

“There will be more incentives to electrical engineers than french literature majors. There just will be,” Bevin said during his proposal according to the Associated Press. “All the people in the world that want to study French literature can do so, they are just not going to be subsidized by the taxpayer.” 

Bevin has received criticism for his comments, implying that those who major in French literature may be less worthy in the career field than those who graduate with degrees in engineering or other science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) related fields. 

Meaux, who has a passion for bilingualism and studied in France during the 2015 spring semester, said she believes her time spent learning about the French language contributed to her being able to build bridges between herself and those of other cultures both home and abroad. 

Recently she was teaching a class at the Honors College and International Center when she became aware of the lack of English speaking amongst those in her classroom. To help bridge this gap and overcome her student’s hesitancy to speak a different language, she had them teach her a phrase in their language in hopes they would reciprocate the gesture. 

“I had them teach me a phrase, so I bumbled over it,” she said. “I sounded like an idiot, in the hopes that they would exchange back with me and it worked to an extent. It shows that you care.” 

While Meaux was studying abroad in France, she was in a language school with other students from different countries, including Australia, Japan and Syria. She recalled that for the first time the common language all the students had was also a foreign language. 

“All these people don’t necessarily speak English, so it was funny for the first time ever our common language was a foreign language, and if we hadn’t learned that we wouldn’t have been able to communicate,” she said. 

Meaux said she was aware of the future funding cuts to higher education, however, she said that while Bevin is currently approaching the situation of restructuring funding in one certain way that it may not turn out how he expects later on down the line. 

She also said she understood where Bevin was coming from to a certain extent. While she said she believes it’s in the state government’s best interest to invest in what may make citizens stronger and more capable, and that a French literature major doesn’t have the same capabilities as an engineer, the government should not forget that it’s for the people.

“If the people want to study French literature then they should be encouraged to study French literature…the government’s forgetting that it’s mostly for the people not the people for the government,” she said. 

This was a similar sentiment echoed by Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo who said it was not within the government’s rights to tell people what they should, or should not, study.

“The whole goal of public higher education is so that people can decide what they want to be and how they want to educate themselves for their professional lives or their lives for their jobs,” Stumbo said, as reported by the Associated Press. 

While Meaux acknowledged that Bevin’s budget proposal has yet to be finalized, and is still speculative, she looked to her future career which she knows will include French in someway.

She said she would like to be a teacher, but doesn’t foresee herself putting in as much time as teachers typically do. With her psychology double major she also considered going abroad with Doctors Without Borders, or working overseas in a Francophone country. 

“I do want to have French as part of my life in some shape or form,” Meaux said.