Spanish, French, German and ASL: Most Popular Languages Taught in US

Dan Berrett’s article, “Getting Their Babel On” (Inside Higher Ed, Dec. 8, 2010) shares the results of a study conducted by the Modern Language Association (MLA) in terms of university students in the US studying foreign languages. Here are the highlights:

  • The rate at which students took foreign language courses in 2009 remained constant, compared to three years prior.
  • The number of enrollments in language courses grew from 1.57 million in 2006 to 1.68 million in 2009, or 6.6 percent. However, the total number of enrollments in undergraduate courses as a whole also increased. In simple terms this means that language courses account for 8.6 of every 100 course enrollments in post-secondary institutions. That number has remained the same since 2006.
  • Of every 100 undergraduate degrees earned, 1.16 of them are in foreign languages.
  • 70 % of undergrad degrees in foreign languages are earned by women.
  • The most popular languages to study (aside from English, which is not considered a “foreign” language in the US) are Spanish, French, German, and American Sign Language, in that order.
  • American universities teach a total of 232 different languages.
  • Arabic boasted the highest increases in enrollments last year, with a 46% increase over the three previous years.
  • Graduate program enrollments in languages have dropped by 6.7 percent since 2006.


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Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

2 Responses to Spanish, French, German and ASL: Most Popular Languages Taught in US

  1. George says:


    Interesting article. I used to teach French in the UK. Do you have any data on how many students took French in USA last year? And what are the most common syllabuses to use?



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