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Languages in the United States


Language-learning trends - Languages spoken in the U.S. - More language statistics

Language-learning trends in the United States

More Americans are Studying Languages than Ever Before

According to a 2006 survey by the Modern Language Association, more college students in the U.S. are studying languages than ever before. Over 1.5 million college students were enrolled in language courses in Fall 2006. Overall, enrollments in post-secondary language education jumped 13 percent as compared with 2002. This is following a nearly 18 percent increase in language enrollments between 1998 and 2002. The continued upsurge is easily attributable to increased interest in languages, as general undergraduate enrollments increased only 6.2 percent between 2002 and 2006 and 7.5 percent during the previous 4-year period. Yet the number of foreign language courses taken on a percentage basis of enrollments is only about half of the 1965 rate of 16.5 percent.


What languages are Americans learning?

Spanish continues -- as it has since 1970 -- to be the most widely taught language at American colleges and universities across the country. Enrollments in French, German, and Russian continue to grow at a steady pace, while the percentages of students taking American Sign Language, Italian, Japanese, Chinese, Arabic, Portuguese, and Korean have grown dramatically. Of the top 15 languages learned, Chinese and Arabic grew most rapidly on a percentage basis during the period under study.

Top 15 Languages Learned in the U.S.
(based on Fall 2006 Enrollments in U.S. Institutions of Higher Education)

Language % of Enrollment Language % of Enrollment
1. Spanish 52.2% 9. Russian 1.6%
2. French 13.1% 10. Arabic 1.5%
3. German 6% 11. Ancient Greek 1.4%
4. American Sign Language 5% 12. Biblical Hebrew 0.9%
5. Italian 5% 13. Portuguese 0.7%
6. Japanese 4.2% 14. Modern Hebrew 0.6%
7. Chinese 3.3% 15. Korean 0.5%
8. Latin 2%    


In addition to the traditionally taught languages, American college and university students are learning 204 less commonly taught languages indigenous to regions throughout the world. These include such languages as Amharic, Swahili, Persian, Hindi, Modern Greek, Hawai'ian, Polish, and Vietnamese.

Regional differences in language interests are also apparent. Interest in Italian and Hebrew is strongest in the northeastern United States, Florida, and in pockets along the West Coast. Asian languages, including Chinese, Japanese and Korean, are most popular on the Pacific Coast. The distribution of Spanish and Arabic is fairly even.

Data are from the MLA Survey report "Enrollments in Languages Other Than English in United States Institutions of Higher Education, Fall 2006".


And here are the 2002 data for the sake of comparison.

Top 12 Languages Learned in the U.S. in 2002
(based on Fall 2002 Enrollments in U.S. Institutions of Higher Education)

Language % of Enrollment Language % of Enrollment
1. Spanish 53% 7. Chinese 2.4%
2. French 14.4% 8. Latin 1.9%
3. German 7.1% 9. Russian 1.7%
4. Italian 4.5% 10. Ancient Greek 1.5%
5. American Sign Language 4.3% 11. Biblical Hebrew 1%
6. Japanese 3.7% 12. Arabic 0.7%

2002 data are from the MLA Newsletter (Spring 2004) and the ADFL Bulletin, Vol. 35.2-3 (Winter-Spring 2004).







Language-learning trends - Languages spoken in the U.S. - More language statistics

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