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By Barbara Schoetzau
New York
13 November 2007

A new study shows significant increases in foreign language study in the United States since 2002. From VOA's News York bureau, correspondent Barbara Schoetzau reports Arabic is leading the surge.

Jessica in the classroom
The survey by the Modern Language Association of America finds that the study of Arabic has increased a whopping 127 percent, and the number of schools offering Arabic study has doubled since the last nationwide survey in 2002.

Spanish continues to be the most studied language at US higher education institutions, but interest in Asian languages is growing with Chinese up more than 50 percent.

The Modern Language Association has been tracking language enrollment for half a century. The group's executive director, Rosemary Feal, says the number of enrollments is now at an historic high. She says the increase reflects a growing recognition on the part of students and government that languages play a role in an ever smaller world.

"First of all, we think that they know that they are going to be better prepared in their careers and in their lives as citizens. And we also know that there is a lot more support for language study today, support in the form of federal dollars, support also in the form of technology," she said.

The study finds that students continue to study traditionally taught languages such as Spanish, French and Italian and that interest in classical languages such as Greek and Latin remains strong.

Karin Ryding, a professor of Arabic at Georgetown University in Washington, DC, says she is pleased that the survey found growth both introductory and advanced level courses in foreign language. She says practicality is one of the motivations.

"I don't think this is just a temporary spike in enrollments. I think these figures indicate a real shift of interest on the part of American students. Young people today understand that the world is now truly and inevitably smaller. They are coming to the study of Arabic and other languages with serious professional goals in mind. I include work with international organizations, diplomatic service, global environmental efforts, humanitarian relief efforts, security studies, international communications and media studies," she said.

The survey's findings are based on language study enrollments at 2,800 colleges and universities across the United States between October 2006 and August 2007. This report is the group's 21st survey.

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