Two weeks after University faculty members voted to alter foreign language graduation requirements beginning with the Yale College Class of 2009, a new national study provided statistical proof that university-level foreign language study in the U.S. is on the rise.
The study, conducted by the Modern Language Association with the aid of the U.S. Department of Education, determined that more college students studied foreign languages in 2002 than ever before, and that colleges and universities offered a greater variety of language courses than they did in 1998, the last time the survey was conducted.
In total, 1.4 million college students enrolled in foreign language courses last year, a 17.9 percent increase over the 1.19 million who were studying languages five years ago. The number of students studying foreign languages in 2002 represented 8.7 percent of the total population of college students, marking a 30-year high for involvement in such programs after substantial decreases in the 1980s and 1990s.
Yale College Dean Richard Brodhead pointed to the University’s concentration on language as symptomatic of a nationwide trend of growing multilingualism, as well as multiculturalism in general.
“I’m sure the increase of enrollment nationally reflects an increased interest in international affairs,” he said. “We already have among the fullest language offerings among any university in the country — at Yale, enrollments [in foreign language courses] did not go down when they did nationally. The interest has always been very high.”
The conclusions of Modern Language Association Executive Director Rosemary Feal support Brodhead’s assertion that students are increasingly interested in international issues.
“Students are clearly recognizing the importance of learning other languages as we become a more global society,” Feal said.
Some students at Yale, especially those already majoring in a particular language, said they decided to learn new languages based simply on latent interest.
“A lot of the other people who are majoring in Spanish are also taking other introductory language courses,” said Julia Solomon ’05, a Spanish major and tutor who is also studying French. “There are a whole group of people who decide to major in a language and then want to go out and learn as many as possible.”
But many students do not take foreign language courses during their time at Yale, Joe Light ’05 said.
“Most of the people I know fulfilled their language requirements before they got here,” Light said.
According to the Modern Language Association study, Spanish accounted for 53 percent of students enrolled in a foreign language class, making it the most popular language of study. The second most popular language was French, the enrollment for which has remained about the same as the 1998 figures, followed by German, for which enrollment has risen 12.5 percent since 1998.
After Spanish, French, and German, the most widely studied languages among college students were American Sign Language, Japanese, Chinese, Latin, Russian, ancient Greek, biblical Hebrew, Arabic, modern Hebrew, Portuguese, and Korean.
American Sign Language, Arabic and biblical Hebrew have been the fastest-growing languages of study since 1998.
In 2002, more than 60,000 students registered for American Sign Language, a more than 400 percent increase from the fewer than 14,000 students studying ASL in 1998.
Although recent changes in the study’s methods of data-gathering may have slightly affected these results, ASL programs have been created at 186 colleges and universities in the last five years.
The number of students taking Arabic courses rose by 92.5 percent, and enrollment in biblical Hebrew courses increased by 59 percent.
On Nov. 6, ladder faculty members at the University voted to endorse the recommendations of the Committee on Yale College Education.
Students entering Yale with language proficiency will be required to take at least one term of foreign language study, and the foreign language requirement for students who do not meet proficiency will decrease from four to three semesters.