Americans have a reputation for being bad at learning languages. Today even fewer of them seem inclined to try.
From 2013 to 2016, the number of students in American universities enrolled in foreign language courses fell by more than 9%. This doesn’t appear to be just a halt – the total number has been steadily declining since 2009, according to a study (pdf) from America’s Modern Language Association.
This can largely be explained by a drop in the number of people learning Spanish, by far the most popular language among American students. But many other languages have also seen a decline in popularity, and often at higher rates than Spanish, including German, Russian and Italian.
By far the largest increase was recorded in Korean, with a 65% increase in registrations. Still, the actual number of students enrolled in Korean courses is quite low – just 14,000, compared to more than 700,000 for Spanish.
Learning the language is important. Multilingualism is positively correlated with intelligence and memory. In the new global economy, fluency in multiple languages increases job opportunities. But this new data shows that American college students are falling even further behind the rest of the world when it comes to acquiring new languages.