Alexis Haupt wanted a challenge.
So instead of taking Spanish or German - old standards in high school and college classrooms - as her foreign language, she took Chinese at MMI Preparatory School in Freeland, where she is a junior.
If she has a career in the field of science, as she aspires, perhaps she will be working in China one day.
A report from Language Line Services reveals that between the first quarter of 2011 and the first quarter of 2012, Arabic, Mandarin and Vietnamese were the top spoken languages in the United States after Spanish.
The trend is reflected locally as more schools consider or follow through on offering courses in nontraditional languages.
An index Language Line Services employs uses proprietary data from 20 million over-the-phone interpretation-request calls the company fields annually in 170-plus languages. The report tracks calls for the government and health-care sectors across 20 major U.S. cities, and ranks the 10 most-requested languages in each location, as well as percentage growth for each language.
Louis F. Provenzano Jr., president and CEO of Language Line Services, said while Spanish remains the number one language in those 20 cities, Arabic, Vietnamese and Mandarin each ranked among the top-three requested languages in nine of the 20 cities.
Businesses, local governments, court systems, emergency services and health care agencies use the languages, he said.
Haupt said she chose to study Chinese because learning about a completely different culture seemed interesting.
"Given the opportunity to take Chinese, I thought it would be a challenge and more rewarding in the end," she said.
Most educators say while some students study nontraditional languages, like Chinese, because they want a challenge, want to learn about another culture or because of heritage, many take them for purely career reasons.
Dr. Francis X. Antonelli, superintendent of the Hazleton Area School District, said the district offers a number of nontraditional foreign languages through the its Blended Schools cyber initiative, which is based in State College, to help better prepare students for a career.
"Look at our economy and the business world," Antonelli said. "Anyone who wants to pursue a career in commercial banking and international commerce needs these languages to succeed in those careers."
Dr. Jing Luo, chair of the department of languages and cultures at Bloomsburg University, said there are economic factors "catalytic" to the momentum.
"They show that globalization is intrinsic and increasingly important to the American economy," Luo said. "Between 2000 and 2011, U.S. exports to China grew by 542 percent" and totaled $103.9 billion in 2011. That made China the United States' number two export market, just below Canada.
"During the same period, Pennsylvania's export to China grew by 1,177 percent, standing at $3.5 billion in 2011," Luo said, citing U.S.-China Business Council data. "Pennsylvania's export to Afghanistan was $399.6 million in 2011, which represents a 22,198 percent increase from 2007."
Luo said statistics from the Modern Language Association from 2006 to 2009 showed Arabic had the largest increase in enrollment, 46 percent. Chinese was second with 18 percent, Italian third with 16 percent and Japanese fourth with 10 percent.
Bloomsburg offers Chinese and Arabic, he said.
"There are four levels of Chinese that we offer," Luo said. "The total students may reach 60 to 70, if an extra section is added in the fall. We are in the process of building a Chinese major which will require students to study in China, at Peking University preferably, for one semester. There is a similar situation with Arabic."
Dr. Caroline Eckhardt, professor and director of the School of Languages and Literature at Penn State University, said there are several factors for interest in the Oriental languages, as well as Hindi from India and Arabic.
"The changing demography of Pennsylvania, the heightened interest in heritage, and more commercial and business opportunities that are an effect of globalization are all factors," Eckhardt said. "There's a lot of interest in east Asian languages, like Japanese, Chinese, Korean and Hindi (India)."
She said employment in government agencies has caused a rise in interest in Arabic.
"Last fall, we had six sections of 22 students each for the beginning of Arabic," she said. "The previous fall, we had five sections. We established a minor in Arabic, and 14 students already graduated with it."
The University of Scranton offers Arabic, Japanese and Chinese, spokesman Stan Zygmnut said.
"Arabic draws the most interest, then Japanese and Chinese," he said. "A lot of students who are interested in government service, or are in ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps, the military) are interested in Arabic. Those interested in Japanese are interested for the culture. And Chinese tends to have a lot of business applications."
MMI President Thomas Hood said Chinese is second only to Spanish in enrollment. Of the 112 freshmen, sophomores and juniors studying a foreign language, 51 are taking Spanish, 34 Chinese and 27 German.
Only three years of Chinese are offered at MMI because the program is in its third year. Next year, the full four years will be offered.