Foreign language study programs gain popularity

Bryan Keogh

More students enrolled in foreign language classes in 1998 than ever before, according to a report released Thursday by the Modern Language Association.
The report revealed a 4.5 percent increase in enrollment nationwide from 1995 to 1998.
Although officials in University language programs had no specific numbers to point to, some department heads said they are seeing a substantial increase in language enrollment.
Patricia Mougel, an assistant education specialist in the Department of French and Italian, said students are not taking language courses just to meet degree requirements.
“There seems to be an increasing interest on the part of students,” she said. “Students are realizing that learning a foreign language is important.”
Those pursuing careers in international relations and business have discovered the necessity of understanding multiple languages to remain competitive in their fields, she said.
According to the MLA report, Spanish continues to be the most popular language nationally, attracting 656,590 students and accounting for 55 percent of all students enrolled in foreign language courses. The University’s Department of Spanish and Portuguese has had difficulty offering enough Spanish courses to meet demand.
Doug Olson, the director of graduate studies in the Department of Classical and Near Eastern Studies, said they didn’t expect to fill the three sections they offered in Latin last year, but they did. The department offered another section this year to accommodate the increased enrollment.
In part, Olson said the higher interest level in Latin might be connected to a student-led intellectual movement returning to the classics.
“This is expanding rapidly. (Latin literature) is stuff that endures,” he said. “This is great literature.”
Greek and Hebrew language departments have also seen increases in enrollment at the University, Olson said. Nationally, interest in Greek and Latin courses remained stable while Hebrew language classes dropped 10 percent — the largest decline of all the languages offered at universities.
American Sign Language had the biggest boom in popularity, rising 165 percent since 1995. At least 7,000 more students enrolled in sign language courses last year than four years ago, bringing the total to 11,420.
Other large increases were seen in Arabic, 23.9 percent, and Korean, 34 percent.
“I think (the increases are) pretty much across the board,” Mougel said.
The Modern Language Association is an international organization working to improve the studying and teaching of language and literature.
A surge in language interest is contrary to findings of the last report. According to a MLA survey released in 1995, foreign languages experienced a 3.8 percent decline in student enrollment since 1990.

Bryan Keogh welcomes comments at [email protected] He can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3232.