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In Defense of the Language Requirement

McKenna reflects on the valuable lessons she learned because of Carleton's language requirement.

McKenna reflects on the valuable lessons she learned because of Carleton's language requirement.


Carleton has a language requirement.

When I applied, I was concerned about learning a new language. I received support from my friends and professors, especially during my first term, and now I’m very grateful for the distribution requirements — I wouldn’t have discovered this passion without them!

I don’t think of myself as a language person and, honestly, I really wasn’t looking forward to Russian 101. But, I enjoyed the class more when I came in with an open mind. 

Turns out, that worked. 

My first term of Russian at Carleton was kind of scary and a lot of work — like learning a whole new alphabet. But it was also super fun! The more work I put into it, the more I wanted to keep going. 

I also had a lot of support from my peers (shout out to Olya, Kolya, and Fima!) and from upperclassmen (thanks Klara, Dobrynya, and Nikola!). Almost every night, we’d meet in our classroom and work on grammar exercises or just to hang out together. When it came to learning, one of my friends was really good at coming up with mnemonics.

My specialty? Charts.

Russian grammar
This is pretty much all the grammar I had learned at this point.
Russian chart
I love the whiteboards in the Language and Dining Center.

Once I got the hang of Russian homework, I really enjoyed it. The department is small — I’m one of two majors in my year — which means I know my professors really well. Having started Russian 101 in the fall of my freshman year, I finished with the language requirement two terms ago, during my sophomore year. 

Before the pandemic, I was scheduled to study abroad in Russia. I’m still looking forward to doing that next spring. In the meantime, I took a new course on Post-Soviet Film. Aside from all the verbs, the most valuable lessons I’ve learned have nothing to do with Russian. Instead, I’ve learned to ask for help. I have a deeper understanding of Russian Cat Translations. And, most importantly, I tried something new and maybe looked like a fool, but kept practicing until I got better. 

I’m now a Russian major with plans to use my language after I graduate. I won’t say that I’ve incorporated my language studies into all aspects of my life, but I have made it a point to do something in Russian every day. I’ve even started making Russian food.

Pelmeni/Russian Dumplings
I made Russian dumplings — pelmeni (пельмени) — from scratch earlier this year! These are a little on the larger side but very tasty.

I wouldn’t have decided to try Russian without the language requirement.

Looking back, I’m so glad I took a chance on it. Learning Russian has really shown me the value of a liberal arts education. So if it’s something you’re worried about, I’d encourage you to take a chance — you never know what you might learn!


McKenna is a Russian and Psychology double major who is suffering from major Minnesota-withdrawal (her favorite season is, in fact, winter).  On campus, she’s often designing lights for a student performance, speaking Russian in Parish house, or grabbing a meal with friends.  She’s also a proud member of the Carleton Equestrian Team and is currently playing Witcher 3: Wild Hunt in her free time. Meet the other bloggers!