Foreign Language Enrollment Hits Record Level
More students are studying foreign languages than ever, and the variety of languages being taught is greater than ever, according to a recent survey.
“Students are clearly recognizing the importance of learning other languages as we become a more global society,” says Dr. Rosemary G. Feal, executive director of the Modern Language Association (MLA). “Studying foreign languages allows for a greater understanding of other cultures and ways of thinking.”
The MLA released the findings last month from the survey, “Foreign Language Enrollments in United States Institutions of Higher Education, Fall 2002.”
Since 1998 — the last time the survey was published — the number of students studying foreign languages in U.S. institutions of higher education increased by 17.9 percent, from 1,193,830 in 1998 to 1,407,440 in 2002. This is the highest total number of students studying foreign languages recorded since the first MLA survey was released in 1958, and is greater than the general increase in undergraduate enrollments of 7.5 percent since 1998. The percentage of students studying foreign languages is 8.7 percent — the highest it has been since 1972.
In addition, 148 less commonly taught languages were being studied in 2002, versus 137 in 1998 — an increase of 8 percent and a greater variety of languages than ever before. Of these less commonly taught languages, 35 are indigenous to Europe, 37 are indigenous to the Middle East or Africa, 41 are indigenous to Asia or the Pacific, and 35 are indigenous to North or South America. Examples of these languages include Ojibwe, Swahili, Swedish, Tagalog and Vietnamese.
The largest percentage increases in foreign language enrollments since 1998 are in American Sign Language (ASL), Arabic and Biblical Hebrew. In 2002, more than 60,000 students registered for ASL, a 432 percent increase since 1998. Officials note, however, that part of the increase can be attributed in part to changes in the survey’s data-gathering procedure. Arabic enrollments increased by 92.5 percent since 1998, moving from the 14th position of most commonly taught languages to the 12th. Biblical Hebrew enrollments increased by 59 percent, becoming 11th among the most commonly taught languages.
Since 1970, Spanish has been the most widely taught language in colleges and universities, accounting for more than half (53 percent) of the total foreign language enrollments in 2002. This is nearly four times the number of students enrolled in French, the next most popular language, and more than seven times the number of students enrolled in German, the third most popular language.
Following Spanish, French and German, the most commonly taught languages in the United States are Italian, American Sign Language, Japanese, Chinese, Latin, Russian, Ancient Greek, Biblical Hebrew, Arabic, Modern Hebrew, Portuguese and Korean.
© Copyright 2005 by DiverseEducation.com