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American students abandoning foreign languages – report

Enrollment in courses other than English has dropped sharply at US colleges and universities

US college students are increasingly eschewing foreign language courses, reducing enrollment in such classes to the lowest levels in more than two decades, a new report has revealed.

Enrollment in language courses other than English at US colleges and universities tumbled by nearly 17% between 2016 and 2021, led by declines in German and French courses, the Modern Language Association (MLA) said in a report released on Wednesday. The drop was the largest on record and left enrollment in such courses at around 1.18 million, the lowest mark since 1998.

Foreign language study has been in decline on American campuses since enrollment peaked at nearly 1.7 million in 2009, sliding nearly 30% as colleges focus more on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs. At the same time, schools have trimmed non-STEM programs.

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“We can’t afford to devalue the study of languages,” MLA executive director Paula Krebs said. “The world is increasingly interconnected, and the need [for] the knowledge of languages other than English is even more important.”

The number of college-level foreign language programs in the US dropped by 8.2% between 2016 and 2021, wiping out nearly 1,000 courses. German, French and Chinese programs were among those hit hardest. Enrollment in German classes fell nearly 34% over the five-year period, while French courses saw a 23% drop. Spanish classes had 18% fewer students but remained the leading foreign language by enrollment volume.

Exceptions to the downward trend included Korean, American Sign Language (ASL), and Biblical Hebrew. MLA attributed the 38% jump in enrollment for Korean courses more to pop culture than purely academic pursuits. The surge was driven by fans of K-pop and Korean dramas.

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In fact, Korean supplanted Russian as one of the top ten foreign languages studied at US colleges and universities. Enrollment in Russian courses fell by nearly 14%, to 11,433. The increasing disinterest is apparently mutual, as sales of English language textbooks in Russia reportedly dropped by 33% in this year’s first six months.


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