Foreign language enrollment and economics have something in common – supply and demand.
Demand for advanced foreign language classes in Persian, Swahili and Korean, among others, is not high enough for the University to offer them as degree programs – hence, no supply.
Beginning levels in nontraditional foreign languages attract many students, but the advanced levels don’t, said Nanette Hanks, College of Liberal Arts assistant dean for curriculum.
The process of turning a language program into a major takes time, student demand, adequate instruction and enough funding, she said.
“There has to be sufficient student demand, not just at the beginning level, but through all the levels,” Hanks said.
According to CLA’s spring 2008 enrollment summaries, almost all sections of beginning Korean are 100 percent full, while the intermediate sections are about 65 percent full.
Similar data applies to nontraditional languages Norwegian and Japanese.
Compared to long time language programs, such as French and Spanish, the Swahili and Persian programs are going on their second year, Hanks said.
Swahili instructor Angaluki Muaka said the University discontinued the Swahili program in the mid-1980s because of lack of instruction and funding, but revived it in 2006 when only beginning Swahili was offered.
Hanks said demand for beginning courses determines whether more advanced classes are needed at the University. If demand remains high, a major in that language can follow.
So when students showed interest in studying Swahili at the intermediate level, the University offered the courses this year, Muaka said.
He added that intermediate students are interested in studying at the advanced level next year and the University will open more sections.
Although more students requested availability in higher levels of Swahili, Muaka doesn’t believe it will become a major any time soon.
New language programs like Swahili, Urdu and Persian need more than student interest to survive.
Funding for the language programs can be difficult to obtain. A lot of education funds come from donations aimed at specific research programs, Muaka said.
But in Arabic, enrollment and funding has been high and steady, which made the African-American studies department consider offering Arabic as a minor, Hanks said.
The problem is finding qualified instructors, she added.
“It’s not enough to be a native speaker,” Hanks said. “Teaching a language is a unique skill.”
All universities across the country are looking for Arabic instructors, Hanks said.
She added that it’s not clear when students will be able to declare Arabic as a minor at the University.
Political science and history senior Maura DiSalvo took almost all levels of Arabic in addition to a few courses in Middle Eastern culture and politics. She said she would’ve liked to major or at least minor in Arabic if it were possible.
“It connects you with another part of the world that most people don’t really know that much about,” DiSalvo said.