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US: As demand for bilingualism increase, enrollments in foreign language classes fall

Students aren't filling the lecture halls to leanr foreign languages. Source: Dmitri Popov on Unsplash

Since 2009, the overall number of US university students signing up for foreign language classes have been steadily falling.

Now, new data reveal the number continues to fall – from 2013 to 2016, the number of enrollments has dropped by nine percent, Quartz reported.

The biggest increase could be seen in Korean language classes, however, which grew by 65 percent. However, there are only 14,000 students enrolled in these classes, much lower than over 700,000 for Spanish, which is the most popular language among US college students

Spanish language classes enrollments decreased by 17.3 percent. Other popular languages also saw lesser number of students enrolling, such as French (-18.4 percent), Latin (-23.4 percent) and Russian (-23.9 percent).

Ancient Greek experienced the biggest drop (38.3 percent).

Even French suffered an 18.4 percent drop in enrollments. Source: Lucas Gallone on Unsplash

Data from the Modern Language Association found that decades of increases in foreign language ended after 2009. These findings, a report from the MLA says, suggest that the declines reported in 2013 were “the beginning of a trend rather than a blip”.

Dropping enrollments could result in your university axing smaller language programs, something that some private and public universities struggling financially have done.

Inside Higher Ed reported in March that the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point will be axing its majors in French, German and Spanish, as part of a retrenchment of many liberal arts programs.

It’s a shame as learning a foreign language could be highly beneficial to both local and international students. Studies have shown how it helps with multitasking, stave off Alzheimer’s and dementiaimproving memory, not to mention aiding with cross-cultural communication on campus, to name a few.

It should come as a relief then to see Princeton proposing making it mandatory for all students to study a foreign language, even those already proficient in another language.

“Our current requirements treat foreign language as something of a skill, which sets it apart from the other requirements that emphasise the importance of different, largely disciplinary, ways of knowing,”  wrote the Princeton’s Task Force on General Education.

“Although learning another language does involve skill and proficiency, we also see language as a critical point of entry into cross-cultural understanding.”

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