According to a report recently released by the Modern Language Association, enrollment in foreign language courses has dropped 6.7 percent from 2009 to 2013 following about 20 years of consistent growth.
The report, based on a survey of 2,616 American universities, compared foreign-language enrollment from two- and four-year colleges.
Spanish and French continued to be the most studied foreign languages across all colleges, followed by American Sign Language (ASL), which surpassed German as the third-most studied language.
Kristen Harmon, English professor at Gallaudet University, said a growing awareness of ASL as an autonomous language is likely what caused its rise in popularity.
“Students find that studying an indigenous American language gives them another perspective on American life and culture,” Harmon said. “Those who receive advanced training and certification in sign language interpreting will also find that there is demand for highly qualified interpreters in education, government and business.”
Although Spanish had greater enrollment than all other languages combined, Spanish enrollment saw its first decline in the history of the survey with an 8-percent drop.
Rosemary Feal, executive director of the association, said the addition of 34 more languages previously not in the survey influenced the decline in Spanish.
“This change [in Spanish enrollment] suggests that students in US classrooms have more options than they had in the past,” Feal said. “They may be coming from high school with knowledge of a language other than Spanish or French, and they are taking advantage of the impressive array of offerings at the college level.”
Marketing senior Gaby Yu said she believed, while it was useful to be multilingual, knowing a foreign language is not crucial to finding a job unless a business student plans to work in a specific country.
“I think in business to have that [foreign language] knowledge is not really necessary because a lot of business is English speaking, unless you’re doing international business,” Yu said.
Feal said certain language programs are still retaining their enrollment rates despite the decrease in some foreign language enrollments.
“At a time when so many language programs are facing financial constraints, it’s inspiring to see how some programs are thriving,” Feal said. “If we are going to give all students the opportunity to pursue advanced language study, we need to document what successful programs are doing and advocate these models.”