Enrollment in foreign language courses at U.S. colleges and universities rose 6.6% between 2006 …
Study: Every foreign language has its niche
By Daniel de Vise
A new and definitive survey of foreign language instruction in U.S. colleges finds that every major language has found its audience, and each is showing some measure of growth, however modest.
That hasn’t always been so. French, German, Italian, Latin, Russian and Japanese all have had ups and downs in enrollment in past surveys by the Modern Language Association of America.
But enrollments are rising in each of those languages at a fairly steady clip since at least 2000, according to the new survey, which was taken in 2009 and was last conducted in 2006.
The behemoth is Spanish, which by 1995 had become more popular than all other foreign languages combined. Spanish enrollment rose in 2009, but at a slower rate than in past surveys, and may be leveling off somewhat. The Spanish headcount stands just shy of 865,000, compared with 765,000 for all other languages.
French enrollment peaked at 388,000 in 1968. It’s down to 215,000, but enrollment has risen in every MLA survey since 1998, suggesting that the language has found its footing.
German enrollment peaked at about 215,000 in the 1968 survey. Then it got clobbered by Spanish. Now it has recovered, and enrollment has risen steadily since 1998, to just under 100,000.
Italian enrollment has climbed fairly steadily since 1960, with a trough in the 1990s, but it now stands at 80,000.
The upstart in this crowd is American Sign Language, which has rocketed ahead of Italian to claim more than 90,000 seats in college classrooms from almost nothing in 1990, signifying its ascent as a language worthy of collegiate study.
Japanese and Chinese are fast-growing, but their numbers remain comparatively small, roughly 70,000 enrollment in Japanese and 60,000 in Chinese.
Here is an excerpt of the blow-by-blow narrative in the report:
Course enrollments in languages other than English reached a new high in 2009. [A]ggregated results for all languages show a gain of 6.6% over the 2006 survey, about half the 12.9% expansion in enrollments between 2002 and 2006. In actual numbers, student enrollments in languages other than English grew to 1,682,627 in 2009, up from 1,577,810 in 2006 …
In terms of ranking, Spanish, French and German lead as the three most studied languages, followed by American Sign Language (ASL), fourth in the survey since 2006. Italian, Japanese, and Chinese come next, in the same sequence they have occupied since 1998. Arabic has jumped two positions since 2006 to eighth, now ahead of Latin and Russian, but with enrollments at 35,083, it is closer in number to Latin (32,606) than to Chinese (60,976). Enrollments in courses in Korean have overtaken those in Modern Hebrew, to rank after Portuguese as the fourteenth most commonly studied language in 2009.
Spanish enrollments are still growing, but at a more modest rate of 5.1% in 2009, as compared with 10.3% in 2006 and 13.7% between 1998 and 2002.
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