Arabic was the fastest-growing foreign language for US university study last year, with enrollments growing by more than 46 percent compared to 2006, a study released Wednesday showed.
Besides English, Arabic leapfrogged Latin and Russian to land in eighth place on the most studied language list, which has been compiled 22 times since 1958 by the Modern Language Association (MLA).
Other countries that showed double-digit percentage growth were Korean, which grew by just over 19 percent; Chinese, up by 18.2 percent; American sign language, up 16.4 percent, and Portuguese, by around 11 percent.
But Spanish remains far and away the most popular language other than English that is studied at US universities, with nearly 865,000 enrollments -- a rise of five percent over 2006.
Next came French, with 216,000 enrollments and German with 96,000. French was up nearly five percent and German around two percent compared to 2006.
The report shows that French enrollments reached an all-time high of 388,000 in 1968, the year the country was rocked by massive strikes, riots and civil unrest.
By 1980, they had fallen back to 248,000.
Enrollments for Russian spiked from around 24,000 in 1980 to nearly 45,000 in 1990, when the Soviet Union was on the brink of breaking up. Five years later, they were back down to around 25,000.
The number enrolling in Arabic courses have grown from 5,500 in 1998 -- when Al-Qaeda claimed the US embassy bombings in Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam that killed hundreds -- to 10,584 in 2002, the year before the US-led invasion of Iraq, and 35,000 this year.
The study counts enrollments, not number of students, the MLA points out, stressing that a single student majoring in a language may be enrolled in one or more classes in that language.
Language class enrollments were collected from 2,514 US colleges and universities, representing 99 percent of higher education institutions offering languages in the United States, the report said.
Students at US universities can study everything from native American languages -- the most popular of which was Hawaiian with more than 2,000 enrollments in 2009 -- to Kurdish, which saw enrollments triple from six to 18 between 2006 and 2010.
Afghan Pushtu saw an astounding growth curve, from zero enrollments in 2006 to 95 in 2009.
The popularity of Old Church Slavic is waning -- only 73 enrollments last year compared to 133 in 2006 -- while New Testament Greek rocketed from zero enrollments in 2006 to 95 last year, just like Afghan Pushtu.