The recently released National K–12 Foreign Language Enrollment Survey Report shows that a total of 10.6 million U.S. students ranging from kindergarten to twelfth grade are studying a world language, accounting for only about 20% of U.S. school children.
As this is a first-of-its-kind comprehensive study of world language enrollments across the formal U.S. education system, it is not possible to determine if the figures indicate growth in world language enrollments, but it does offer a closer look at language education in the country’s primary and secondary schools, from which a baseline can be established.
The survey shows that Spanish is by far the most widely taught language in all 50 U.S. states and Washington, DC, with 7.36 million students, while 1.29 million studied French and nearly 331,000 were enrolled in German courses.
In U.S. high schools, Romance languages are taught most often, with 46% of those classes focusing on Spanish and another 21% on French. Chinese, German, and Latin are the only other world languages that account for more than 5% of the courses offered to U.S. secondary school students.
As many as 227,086 students have enrolled in Chinese language courses, which are now available in primary and secondary schools in Washington, DC, and every U.S. state except South Dakota, ranking as the fourth-most-widely taught foreign language in the country’s education system.
The soaring popularity of Chinese language learning across the U.S. is “remarkable” as one of the most interesting findings of the survey, Dr. Dan Davidson, president of American Councils for International Education, which implemented the survey, told China’s Xinhua news agency.
Of particular significance is the disparity of language-learning opportunity between different states. In Arkansas and Arizona, fewer than 10% of students are studying a language other than English, and in California, the figure is less than 14%, while New Jersey tops the list at just over 51%.
The report, sponsored by the Language Flagship at the Defense Language and National Security Education Office (DLNSEO), conducted and published by American Councils for International Education in partnership with the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL), the Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL), and the Modern Language Association (MLA), and in collaboration with the National Council of State Supervisors for Languages (NCSSFL), found a striking “lack of knowledge about foreign-language teaching and learning” and concluded that “the sheer difficulty of collecting data is noteworthy.”