MLA Says Foreign Language Study at Universities On the Rise

Story by Eric Gorski for Huffington Post.com, December 8, 2010:

A growing number of college students are studying foreign languages, a trend propelled by greater interest in Arabic, a broader palette of languages being taught and more crowded language classes at community colleges, a new study finds.

But despite the strong interest, experts warn that foreign language study on campuses is in peril because of budget cuts and a dwindling number of graduate students who form the foundation of future college language faculties.

The latest figures from the Modern Language Association, released Wednesday, show that enrollment in foreign language courses grew 6.6 percent between 2006 and 2009, achieving a high mark since the study began in 1960.

While advocates of language study say any growth is good, things have slowed down since the group’s previous report, which showed 12.9 percent growth between 2002 and 2006.

“This is a vulnerable time for language study,” said Rosemary Feal, the association’s executive director and a Spanish professor at the University of Buffalo. “While interest in language study remains strong and students are increasingly interested in studying a wide range of languages, opportunities to study languages may be threatened by program cuts at many colleges and universities.”

Spanish remained the most popular language, with 864,986 students enrolled in classes, a 5 percent increase from 2006. Other European standbys such as French, German and Italian gained, too, but not as fast as other languages.

The biggest gainer was Arabic, which jumped to No. 8 from No. 10 on the list of most-studied languages.

Interest in languages often rise with world events, but many experts say Arabic is not a passing fad considering the long-term importance of U.S. relations with the Muslim world.

Enrollments in Arabic courses grew 46 percent, to 35,083. Other languages that saw double-digit enrollment gains include Korean (up 19 percent), Chinese (18.2 percent), American Sign Language (16.4 percent), Portuguese (10.8 percent) and Japanese (10.3 percent).

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