More college students are enrolling in foreign languages than before, choosing from the widest variety of languages ever offered by colleges and universities nationwide, according to an organization that represents the academic fields of foreign languages and English.

A report from the Modern Language Association indicated that a total of 1.4 million students across the country enrolled in foreign languages last fall, the highest ever with a 17.9 percent jump since 1998.

Enrollments increased in every language, including languages that previously had declining enrollments like French and German, the report from the Modern Language Association said.

Spanish, the report states, is still the most commonly taught language, making up 53 percent of foreign language enrollments.

This increase in enrollment in foreign language may be due to a variety of reasons, from meeting foreign language requirements as more colleges require them to making students more competitive in the job market and more apt to make higher salaries.

Stacey Gill, a University of Wisconsin sophomore, enrolls in foreign language for yet another reason.

“Many benefits exist for bilingual individuals: communicating with a wider array of people, having more job opportunities throughout the world and just bettering oneself,” said Gill, who will study in Puerta Vallarta, Mexico next semester.

“Part of learning a language is learning the culture, and there are many things I won’t be able to learn just in the classroom; instead, they must be experienced,” Gill said.

Magdalena Hauner, professor of African languages and literature and associate dean of arts and humanities at UW, agreed with Gill’s ideas. She said students should study abroad because of the international experience that she believes every student should have.

“It’s so crucial for us to learn about the rest of the world as we are becoming, truly, a global village.”

Though the report indicated a sharp increase in language course enrollment, Hauner said she does not believe this new influx is felt at UW.

“Overall, I’d say the numbers have been either steady or increasing. For instance, in Spanish, enrollments are going through the roof, while German, contrary to the report, is decreasing,” said Hauner. “[UW’s] variety of offerings have expanded … Persian, Vietnamese, Xhosa … those are examples of languages we didn’t offer before.”

A free Internet mentoring service in foreign languages is provided by LangXchange.org, a new website affiliated with the International Association for the Exchange of Students for Technical Experience, or IAESTE of UW. The site matches users based on the languages they know and the languages they wish to learn, making it an excellent source for mentoring or conversation practice.

“The rise in language class enrollment doesn’t surprise me,” said Bryant Walker Smith, coordinator of LangXchange.org. “Students and employers are both discovering the benefits of a global education, and speaking another language brings so much more than mere language skills. Language skills open the door to different people, cultures, even websites,” Smith said.

“A person who learns another language shows a genuine commitment to furthering global understanding and embracing cultural diversity,” Smith added.