A new survey report from the Modern Language Association of America (MLA) shows that students in US institutions of higher education are increasingly opting for studies in a broad range of languages other than English.

Produced with the support of the US Department of Education, the MLA report shows that enrollments in foreign language courses among undergraduate and graduate students in colleges and universities have grown by 6.6% between 2006 and 2009, led primarily by a surge in enrollments in Arabic, up 46.3%. In terms of absolute numbers, Spanish continued to be the most popular language with a growth of 5% from 2006, followed by French which also registered a close rate of growth.

Other languages that recorded significant growth were Korean, Chinese, Portuguese and the American Sign Language, commonly referred to as ASL.

Although overall growth has slowed somewhat since the Association's last report in 2006 (12.9% between 2002-06), what has been heartening among language study experts is the greater interest in a broader variety of languages, even those outside the fifteen most commonly taught (classified in the MLA report as less commonly taught languages, or LCTLs). The number of such languages also saw an increase with 217 LCTLs offered for study in 2009, 35 more than in 2006. Enrollments in these grew by 20.8% during the period.

Globalization, the consequent spread of career opportunities across the world, and the growing awareness of the need to engage with nations across the global village at a socio-cultural level are some of the reasons behind the rise in interest among students to study languages other than English. However, one would think that most view foreign language training as a means to an end, rather than the end itself, given the 6.7% decline in graduate enrollments in languages.

Ironically, despite the continued interest in language studies among students, the American university system has recently seen frequent and common cutbacks in language offerings, due in part to budget challenges. Business Schools, however, strongly encourage their students to take language courses - either as electives through the broader University ecosystem that they belong to, or through exclusive tie-ups or specially designed courses for their students.