More U students opt for less popular languages

The increased interest at the University mirrors a national trend.

Amy Horst

University students taking foreign language classes are increasingly turning to less popular languages, according to enrollment information from the College of Liberal Arts.

While the University population has gone up 9 percent since fall 2000, enrollment in less commonly taught languages – languages other than English, Spanish, French and German – has increased 40 percent or more, mirroring a national trend.

Of those languages, Dutch experienced the greatest increase, going from 18 beginning students in fall 2000 to 53 this semester.

Other languages with dramatic increases include Arabic, Greek, Hebrew, Korean and Latin.

Senior lecturer Jenneke Oosterhoff, who teaches most of the University’s Dutch classes, said many students take Dutch because it is their heritage or they want to study or work in the Netherlands.

When there was less demand for Dutch classes, Oosterhoff sometimes taught advanced classes as independent study courses with as few as three students enrolled, so they could continue the next year, when enrollment might be higher.

“I thought, if I teach on an overload basis for now, then over a longer period of time I will actually be able to fill those classes,” Oosterhoff said. “And that has happened.”

One of Oosterhoff’s students, CLA junior Renee Leclerc, said she took Dutch because many language classes were closed by the time she registered, but she is now happy with the decision.

“When doors shut, windows open,” she said.

A study released in September by the Modern Language Association found that nationally, college students are studying a greater variety of languages than ever.

Rosemary Feal, executive director of the language association, said it is difficult to pinpoint what caused the increase.

“There are as many reasons why students take less commonly taught (languages) as there are students who take those languages,” Feal said.

She said students most often take less popular languages because it is part of their heritage or they plan to work or study in a place where the language is spoken.

The study also showed that Latin enrollment is at the highest it has been since the language association started doing the study in 1958 – a trend students studying Latin at the University said makes sense.

For a medical student, Latin can be helpful for understanding medical terms, which often have Latin roots, said first-year biochemistry student Ka Her. After being in the class for a while, she also began to see other advantages.

“It’s a smaller class,” she said. “It’s more focused on the individual, so it helps me learn better.”

Studying classical Greek is worth the challenge, said Harry Savage, a senior studying Latin.

“It really is harder than Spanish and any other Romance language,” Savage said. “But on the flip side, you’re really getting an air of class and refinement.”

His classmate Hector Amaya, a second-year history student, agreed.

“Plus, you can make some really good elitist jokes in Greek,” he said.

Students of Greek and Latin also said their knowledge allows them to read many classic literary works in their original languages.

In Hebrew, students take the language both for its historical value and to get in touch with their heritage, said Renana Schneller, an instructor of modern Hebrew.

She said because classes are smaller and stay together as they advance into higher levels, students become friends with one another and often socialize outside of class.

Students cite small class sizes as an advantage of studying less popular languages, said Louis Janus, coordinator of international programs at the University. Students also see instructors’ dedication as an advantage, he said.

For Janus, who sometimes teaches Norwegian at the University, having access to information others will not get is another advantage.

“I found out some things on Norwegian news that you don’t find out about for three or four days on American news, if at all,” Janus said.

Being able to access foreign news is also a benefit of learning Arabic, said Hannah Beauchene, an anthropology and global studies senior. She said she sees Arabic-language news stories that often do not make it into the U.S. media.

She said she can watch Al-Jazeera and is able to search for information on Ajeeb, the largest Middle Eastern search engine on the Internet.