September 14, 2009

Monday's questions and sample explanations - #2

2. Advocates of foreign language study have reacted very favorably to recent surveys, which showed more students enrolling in college-level foreign language classes. Most of those classes, however, use conversational methods, instead of the traditional exercises in grammar and analysis of literary texts. Unfortunately, by making it easier for students to meet the language requirements for their bachelor’s degree, these classes will actually have the negative effect of decreasing the numbers of graduates who are capable of appreciating another culture’s means of expression.

In order for the author’s conclusion to be reasonable, which one of the following must also be believed?

  1. If colleges eliminate the foreign language requirement for the bachelor’s degree, they could also eliminate most conversational language classes.
  2. More students would choose a conversational course, if it were available, than a literature course.
  3. Conversational language courses do not provide the cultural insights provided by traditional courses emphasizing grammar and literature.
  4. If colleges continue to offer conversational language courses, there will be fewer qualified foreign language instructors in the future.
  5. Most college graduates today can read in at least one foreign language.

(C) is correct. The basic premise of the argument is that traditional language courses are better at providing cultural insights than conversational language courses are. In other words, one method is better than another to achieve a desired result; X is better than Y to achieve Z. It assumes that conversational language courses do not provide cultural insights, and that traditional grammar/literature courses do. If that is not true, then one cannot reasonably say that the latter is better than the former. Therefore, (C) must be true in order for the author's conclusion to be reasonable.

(A) is incorrect because the desired result is not the elimination of conversational language courses. The desired result is cultural appreciation. The author does not think that conversational courses should be eliminated; he just thinks they don't provide the same cultural insights that traditional courses do. This is a valid argument regardless of whether colleges can eliminate conversational courses by dropping the language requirement altogether.

(B) is incorrect even though it might be a valid inference. The argument implies that conversational courses are easier than traditional courses, which in turn implies that students would choose the former over the latter. However, even if students would prefer to take traditional courses over conversational courses, the argument remains valid that traditional courses provide better cultural appreciation. The argument is still valid no matter what students prefer, therefore this cannot be an assumption upon which the argument rests.

(D) is incorrect because the argument does not suggest that either instructional method will have any effect, positive or negative, on the number of instructors available in the future. The future availability of instructors is irrelevant.

(E) is incorrect because the argument is still valid whether this is true or not. Even if most college graduates cannot read at least one foreign language, it is no less likely that the traditional method is better for fostering cultural appreciation than the conversational method.