East Asian languages see enrollment spike

The number of students taking Korean and Japanese courses, as well as L1 Chinese, increased significantly this year.
The number of students taking Korean and Japanese courses, as well as L1 Chinese, increased significantly this year. Photo by Brianna Loo.

This semester, Yale’s Korean, Japanese and Chinese language programs saw unprecedented increases in student enrollment.

The number of students taking Korean and Japanese courses increased by 25 percent since fall 2012, and 108 students enrolled in L1 Chinese, a 20 percent increase over last year’s 90 students. Seungja Choi, director of language instruction in the East Asian Languages and Literatures Department, said student interest in East Asian languages has been growing nationally, adding that her department last saw a large spike in enrollment in 2005. Choi, who has taught Korean at Yale since 1990, said the East Asian language program’s strong curricula, positive reputation and structural improvements have played a role in attracting students.

Though the total enrollment in the Chinese program has not grown much — from 380 last fall to 385 this semester — its increase in Level 1 enrollment could indicate that the student enrollment will spike in the future, Choi said. She added that since the classes are mostly composed of freshmen, parents might have pushed these new students to learn a practical language like Chinese for their future careers.

Choi and Yu-Lin Wang-Saussy, who teaches the L1 “Elementary Modern Chinese” course, were enthusiastic about increased student interest in East Asian languages, though Wang-Saussy said she hopes her classes can be moved to larger rooms in the future. During shopping period, she said, many students who came to her Chinese class had to sit on the floor because all of the class’s seats were taken.

Wang-Saussy said Chinese might be seeing heightened enrollment because of the growing importance of China in the global economy.

“China is strong, its economy is strong,” she said. “If you want to start working in business, the opportunities are there.”

Wang-Saussy also highlighted some of the unique strengths of Yale’s Chinese program as possible contributors to the program’s rising popularity, such as the rotation of teachers in Elementary Modern Chinese and the prestigious Richard U. Light Fellowship, which fully funds study abroad of East Asian languages.

The 10 students in L1 Chinese interviewed said they are taking Chinese out of a mix of personal interest and pragmatic goals.

Mack Ramsden ’17 said he had been interested in East Asian affairs, namely the politics of the region and its relationship to western nations, since high school. Before coming to Yale, he spent part of a gap year in China, where he discovered that he “really enjoyed speaking the language,” which pushed him to enroll in Elementary Modern Chinese.

Some students said the practicality of learning Chinese was their primary motivator in pursuing the language. Dara Huggins-James ’17 said she feels Chinese is a “practical language to learn,” adding that she wanted to learn a language other than Spanish, which she had studied in high school.

“It’s a really useful language,” Sandeep Peddada ’16 said. As a future engineer, he felt that “the industry seems to be heading in that direction.”

The East Asian Languages and Literatures Department offers an undergraduate major with tracks in Chinese and Japanese.

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