Ramapo College has announced the resurrection of its German language program after a years-long hiatus, offering a 101 course in fall 2019 taught by longtime Ramapo professor Dr. Sam Mustafa. Dr. Mustafa is a historian specializing in European politics.
He studied in Cologne, Germany on a Fulbright Scholarship as a college freshman in the 1980s and speaks fluent German. According to Dr. Mustafa, when new provost Dr. Stephan Becker made it known “he wanted us to step up more foreign language instruction” he offered to lead a “middle to intermediate” German language course when approached by his dean.
“I can’t think of anything – literally anything – that gives you more opportunities than being able to speak a second language,” Dr. Mustafa said. “The world in which you’re going to look for jobs massively increases.” He argues American college graduates fluent in a language other than English receive access to international job opportunities otherwise off-limits. And German?
“Germany is the biggest country and economy in Europe. It’s booming,” said Dr. Mustafa. “I go there every summer, and it’s a very young country right now. I see students from all over the world except the U.S. … we simply don’t teach young people foreign languages in this country.”
Dr. Mustafa believes Ramapo’s own lack of foreign language courses – outside of “the core handful of Spanish, French and Italian” – is symptomatic of this national trend in education. Ramapo’s own once-lengthy list of language courses (including Hebrew and Japanese) withered due to gradual losses in funding. He hopes his fall 2019 course will encourage the College to add more language courses to the catalog.
According to Dr. Becker, a renewed focus on foreign languages is in line with the College’s values. “Here at Ramapo, we place such importance on international orientation and cultural competence. We definitely need to emphasize and stress that,” he said. Dr. Becker also shares Dr. Mustafa’s take on American education’s apparent disinterest in foreign languages: “The fact we don’t have that here in the United States is a big loss.”
He credits the new course entirely to Dr. Mustafa and Ramapo’s faculty. The choice in language, he said, came down Dr. Mustafa’s proficiency in German. “Is it more important than another language? No, I don’t think so,” Dr. Becker said, pointing to other schools’ offerings in Mandarin, Japanese and Arabic.
Dr. Becker himself is German (in a tongue-in-cheek video posted to the College’s Instagram account, he encourages students to pick up “the highly desirable German accent”). English is his own second language. He acknowledges the professional opportunities a second language affords, but also stresses the fulfillment one feels upon successfully communicating in a new tongue: “That’s something really great.”
Dr. Mustafa would agree. He characterizes his life as one defined by his decision to study German. “It really defines who you are,” he said. “It’s a potentially transformative thing, and now’s the time, when you’re young.”