Demand for Spanish classes skyrocketing

by Nancy Ngo

Riding the linguistic wave that is transforming Spanish from a foreign language into a domestic one, the University’s Spanish department this year has more students than it can teach.
Enrollment in the department has more than doubled over the past five years, from 711 students in 1992 to 1,676 this year.
Spanish language enrollment in the 1996-97 academic year will be the highest in the University’s history, said Jan Wikstrom, coordinator in the planning office of the College of Liberal Arts.
This year’s enrollment is on track to exceed the record set in 1995. Fall 1996 Spanish enrollment is up from the same period last year, and winter and spring quarter enrollments are expected to exceed fall quarter.
“There has never been an instance where fall quarter enrollment has not been maintained or increased in the following quarters,” Wikstrom said.
The numbers reflect enrollment in courses numbered 1101 to 1106, the most common courses taken in foreign language departments. Some colleges, such as CLA, require students to pass a proficiency test in a foreign language to graduate. The test is based on the content of the first six quarters of language instruction.
Spanish has dominated the foreign language field since 1987, when it surpassed French as the most popular language to study. This year, French has the second-highest enrollment with 691 students. German follows with 516 students.
The high enrollments in Spanish, French and German at the University are consistent with national language trends. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Spanish is the second-most spoken language in the United States, ahead of French. German is third.
“As budget cuts have been made in public schools over the past few years, many only teach more common languages,” Wikstrom said.
Jeffrey Krautkramer, a sophomore majoring in psychology, said he decided to take Spanish for a CLA requirement because he had taken the language for three years in high school.
“Part of it is because I had a little background in it,” he said.
Krautkramer said Spanish, French, German and Latin were offered at his high school in De Pere, Wis.
If he had not had the high school experience in Spanish, he said he would still have taken Spanish as a second language.
“In the U.S. it’s the second most common language, so I would use it the most,” Krautkramer said.
The number of students seeking to enroll in Spanish has exceeded the number of class sections available and will continue to do so unless the Spanish department can hire more instructors, Wikstrom said.
But the current problem is that although there is a large pool of teaching applicants, there are not enough who meet University qualifications, said Carol Klee, associate professor and chair of the Spanish and Portuguese department.
The department hopes to hire five teaching specialists for winter quarter. The new instructors would teach at least nine new class sections.
To be hired as a teaching specialist, an applicant must have a master’s degree and at least two years of teaching experience, she said. Teaching specialists standardize course curriculum throughout the language sequence and teach classes.
“It is also difficult to recruit people from other states,” Klee said. The Second Language Plan was implemented at the University in fall 1995 to target resources of Spanish, French and German, said Wikstrom.
The plan gives additional funding to the Spanish, French and German departments to accommodate the increasing enrollment because these languages are the most popular. The funding pays for things like hiring more instructors.
The University offers 22 foreign languages. Russian is the only language that has continuously declined over the past five years. Swahili, Urdu and Persian have not had classes offered since 1992 because of low enrollments or lack of instructors.