In another sign of China’s growing prominence on the world stage, the number of U.S. students learning Mandarin Chinese has tripled in recent years, according to new data from the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages.
But the roughly 60,000 young people studying that language as of 2007-08 was dwarfed by the millions learning Spanish, still by far the most popular foreign language in U.S. schools, the Alexandria, Va.-based group reports.
Overall, the data show that enrollment in foreign-language courses and programs has increased slightly in recent years. It grew from 18 percent of K-12 public school students in the 2004-05 school year to 18.5 percent, or 8.9 million students, in 2007-08. But, as the report notes, that translates to fewer than one in five American students enrolled in foreign-language education at the K-12 level.
“We’re still woefully behind almost all other countries of the world, particularly industrialized countries,” said Marty Abbott, ACTFL’s education director. Ms. Abbott noted that the data are more favorable to foreign-language learning at the middle and high school levels, where most U.S. foreign-language study occurs. In grades 7-12, 32 percent of students were taking a foreign language.
Based on a comparison of enrollments in 2004-05 and 2007-08, the languages that saw an increase include:
• Mandarin, up 195 percent, to 60,000;
• Japanese, up 18 percent, to 73,000;
• German, up 8 percent, to 395,000;
• Russian, up 3 percent, to 12,000; and
• Spanish, up 2 percent, to 6.42 million.
Meanwhile, enrollment in French dropped 3 percent, to 1.25 million students, and the numbers of students studying Latin decreased by 9 percent, to 205,000.
A version of this article appeared in the April 06, 2011 edition of Education Week as More Students Enrolling in Mandarin Chinese