Spanish continues to be the most widely taught language in colleges, but Middle Eastern and Asian languages are quickly on the rise, according to a survey from the Modern Language Association.
This is due to students recognizing that they live in a global world and knowing a foreign language from these increasingly important countries can help them succeed in life, language instructors said.
Although all languages, with the exception of Biblical Hebrew, experienced increased enrollments, Arabic and Chinese had the most dramatic rise. The number of students enrolled in Arabic increased 127 percent between 2002 and 2006, and the number of students enrolled in Chinese increased 51 percent, according to the recent survey.
The trend slowly is being reflected in some midstate colleges, although getting faculty and resources for new languages can be a challenge.
Georgia College & State University began offering Arabic last year. It would be a requirement for a potential Middle Eastern studies certificate, said Roger Noel, chair of modern foreign languages at Georgia College.
"Arabic is a very important language because of the situation in the Middle East," Noel said.
The introductory Arabic class had about 15 students, he said, noting that the numbers dwindled at the second level because Arabic is a tough language to learn.
The class is taught by a new instructor each year through the Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant Program, he said.
Georgia College is considering offering Chinese next year and is looking into getting another instructor from the Fulbright program, Noel said.
"China is becoming a world competitor in the U.S., so it's very important for us to be able to communicate with them in their own language rather than assume they speak English," he said.
The Fulbright program allows colleges to hire a native speaker to test drive various languages and gauge the demand among students without hiring a full-time faculty member.
It can be tough to hire a full-time faculty member when starting up a new language. This is because colleges don't know if the language will catch on, and they can't hire full-time instructors if they only teach one or two courses per semester, Noel said.
"If interest keeps up, then at some point we can look at full-time faculty who could then teach Chinese and Arabic," he said. "But we're not there yet."
Georgia College also offers French, German, Italian, Japanese, Russian, Spanish and English as a second language.
Mercer University currently is surveying students to see what other languages they would be interested in. Right now, the college offers French, German, Spanish, Latin and Greek, although Greek can be taken only as a minor, said Anna Weaver, chair of the department of foreign languages and literature at Mercer.
In previous years, the college offered Chinese but quit because of accreditation issues and declining enrollments, she said.
If the department does decide to take on more languages, it isn't something that can be done quickly, she said. The university would have to make sure it has the resources needed to support it, she said.
A faculty member in the political science department teaches interested students Arabic on a one-on-one basis, although it's not for class credit, Weaver said.
At Fort Valley State University, outside of French and Spanish, students seem to be showing the most interest in learning Japanese, said Berlethia Pitts, interim head of English and foreign languages at the university.
The university has offered Japanese in the past, but no longer does so because the instructor is now a full-time graduate student, she said.
She said she also has had students interested in German, Latin and American Sign Language.
There are no immediate plans to add other languages but rather faculty to expand the college's current offerings of French and Spanish, Pitts said.
Language instructors must have many talents, she said. One Spanish professor at Fort Valley State also teaches philosophy and another Spanish professor also teaches French, she said. "We have to have someone who is skilled in many languages and wear many hats," Pitts said.
To contact writer Jennifer Burk, call 744-4345.