A sea of books in a myriad of languages fill Dr. Wayne Kraft’s office where he smiles and twirls his impressive white mustache as he talks about his life, the EWU foreign language department and his 40-year tenure at the university.
Kraft said that language study is traditionally an element of general education at nearby universities such as Portland State or the University of Washington.
“The opportunity to include language study within general education is particularly weak at EWU,” Kraft said.
EWU has never required foreign language study for students pursuing Bachelor of Science degrees or for those who took a language in high school, according to university administration. The foreign language requirement for the Bachelor of Arts degree was added in the 1980s.
Kraft is quick to point out that he’s not suggesting that Eastern change its language requirements, but he said, “It would be a nice thing if students could count language study against the general education requirements in some way. For example, allow students to count language study as a kind of ‘wild card’ against humanities, social sciences, international studies or gender and cultural diversity courses.”
Kraft also teaches language classes during the summer sessions which are only 8 weeks compared to the 10 weeks students get during the normal schedule.
“Summer language courses are a fine opportunity for someone who is inclined and able to get immersed in language study, and especially for people who have some kind of conflict during the regular year,” said Kraft. “The intense character of summer language programs is good for a lot of students because they can get really into it and kind of jazzed up about it, and they can concentrate on it much more.”
Kraft was introduced to the German language during his sophomore year as a physics major at Arizona State. His interest in the language inspired him to travel across the globe to Austria where he attended the University of Vienna after earning his bachelor’s degree. In addition to German, his studies led him to speak Hungarian fluently, as well as some French, Swedish and Japanese.
“When I thought I was a physics major, I was told that I had to start my German one year, and I was told the next year that I had to start my French,” said Kraft. “The idea that science students never had to take languages, I think that’s a relatively recent notion.”
Now Kraft lives in Spokane with his wife, Ildikó Kalapács. He spends most of his time outside of the university reading, a hobby that he admits he was “too fidgety” for him while in his younger years. He and his wife also happen to be fantastic Hungarian dancers, able to synchronize their hand claps and shoe slaps in perfect rhythm.
In 1995, Kraft and his wife began travelling to the small village of Kalotaszentkirály in Transylvania, a place known for its music and dance traditions. At one time, Kalotaszentkirály was inaccessible to outsiders, but since Romania opened its borders in 1990, the development of their tourist industry has caused some interesting changes in their culture.
For the past 15 years, he and his wife have examined the ways that villagers in this small community have adapted their behavior to the changes in their culture due to tourism, farming and the growth of industry. This is something Kraft and his wife are very proud of.