More and more students across the country are turning their attention to foreign language study, according to a recent report released by the Modern Language Association.
The report found that enrollment in introductory language classes nationwide has surged nearly 13 percent since 2002. Although total enrollment in language classes at UC Berkeley over the last three years has remained stagnant, the distribution of students across different departments has fluctuated.
According to data provided by the Berkeley Language Center, interest in more popular languages such as Spanish, French and German, has stayed the same or even declined, while more students are taking introductory courses in less widely taught languages such as Gaelic, Punjabi and Swahili.
Both the national study and the UC Berkeley data reflect the growing popularity of East Asian languages like Chinese, Japanese and Korean.
Mark Kaiser, associate director at the center, attributed the rise in enrollment in East Asian languages to the demographics of the student body.
"We have a large population of Chinese, Korean and Japanese ancestry and for many of them, this is a chance to study their heritage and roots," Kaiser said.
Enrollment in introductory Arabic classes has also increased significantly, with a 127 percent rise throughout the country since 2002. At UC Berkeley, 92 students enrolled in first-year Arabic courses this fall, compared to 80 in 2004, making it one of the campus's more popular language departments.
"I think that is a clearly a reflection with what is happening in international news and the importance of Arabic-speaking countries," Kaiser said. "Students learn about those places and become interested in it and want to study the language."
The Modern Language Association linked various national trends, such as the influx of Spanish-speaking residents to the United States, with the increased interest in certain foreign language courses nationwide.
"Knowledge of Spanish is essential to getting a job in California where there are so many Spanish-speaking people," said sophomore Greg Susko, who is majoring in political economy of industrial societies.
The national study also found that while increasing numbers of students are taking introductory courses in languages, few pursue the advanced study necessary to achieve fluency.
Bianca Soto, a junior majoring in political science and Chinese, stressed the value of exposure to multiple languages.
"Especially in the United States, where there is so much diversity, it would only make sense to learn a little about every language," Soto said.
According to Kaiser, the growth of information technology and globalization has made a foreign language a requirement, rather than a benefit, for many employment opportunities.
"The world is becoming more globalized, and languages help people become more interconnected," Susko said.