A recent report shows enrollment in academic language courses is on an overall national decline, however, University of Wisconsin students seem to remain steady.
Foreign language enrollment among university students declined 6.7 percent since its peak in 2009, according to a Modern Language Association report released February outlining data from fall 2013.
UW saw enrollment numbers for the most popular languages decline just under a percentage point, from 7,448 students in 2009 to 7,382 students in 2013. However, the statistics differ from language to language.
According to Dianna Murphy, associate director of the Russian Flagship Program, language enrollment usually goes in sharp cycles depending on popular trends.
“Going back to the ’80s, Japanese was really trendy because of the market in Japan and the perception that Japanese was a strategic language in business,” she said. “It’s like the real estate business. The same thing has happened with Arabic, with a spike in interest that is now evening off.”
To that effect, UW students appear to be showing disinterest in the languages that frequent national conversation, notably Chinese and Arabic. For Chinese, enrollment numbers declined from 435 in 2009 to 389 students in 2013. Arabic also mirrors declining interest, seeing enrollment drop from 224 to 122 students during that same period.
Nationally, Spanish remains at the head of the pack compared to other languages, although it too saw a 2.4 percent decline, with enrollment dropping from 790,756 to 771,423 students, according to the report.
At UW, students do not align with the national trend as enrollment has increased in the program. Enrollment inched upward from 3,283 students in 2009 to 3,737 students in 2013. This came despite the school no longer offering Spanish 101 due to previous budget cuts.
David Hildner, associate chair of the Spanish department, attributed the increased campus enrollment to better student awareness of the wide use of Spanish in the United States, where he said many jobs require language fluency.
Aside from the strong English standard in the business world, Spanish and Chinese are currently the most important languages due to economic contributions coming from countries in which they are spoken, according to Steve Schroeder, assistant dean of the undergraduate program in the School of Business.
“Much of the world is learning English, and so I don’t think it’s absolutely essential to know a foreign language, but I do think it is helpful,” Schroeder said.
While many students consider studying certain languages because of their application in the business world, political interests have also peaked students’ interests in certain languages, specifically Russian, where UW has shown some of the highest enrollment in the nation, according to Slavic department chair Karen Evans-Romaine.
“Russia and the Russian-speaking world remain front and center in U.S. foreign policy, and many students choose to study Russian at UW for many different reasons, from a love of Russian literature and culture to an interest in aeronautics, various sectors of business and engineering or foreign policy,” Evans-Romaine said in an email.
According to the MLA report, Russian language enrollment increased from 213 students in 2009 to 288 students in 2013. Study of Korean at UW also saw an uptick, with enrollment increasing from 74 students in 2009 to 128 in 2013, according to the report.