More college students are studying foreign languages than ever before, with Japanese, Russian and Spanish showing the greatest growth in enrollment, according to a survey to be released this week by the Modern Language Association of America.
The national growth in language study has been mirrored at Kansas University, say directors of KU foreign-language departments. More students are studying foreign languages because of their usefulness in many professions, they said.
The MLA's survey examined enrollment figures from 1986 to 1990. It said nearly 1.2 million students had enrolled in language courses other than English last fall, an increase of 18 percent since 1986.
The enrollment in Japanese classes nearly doubled, the survey found. It said the number of students studying Japanese in the fall of 1990 was 45,717, compared with 23,454 in 1986.
MAGGIE CHILDS, director of East Asian languages and cultures at KU, said the number of students taking KU's Japanese courses had not increased because the department had not increased the number of its staff. But the number of interested students who had to be turned away had been inching up in recent years, she said.
"We're trying to figure out a way to fill our classes as much as we can, so we can accommodate more people," Childs said.
The national survey also said 44,384 students were studying Russian in 1990, a 30 percent increase over 1986. Together, Japanese and Russian accounted for about 8 percent of the 1990 enrollment in foreign language courses.
Stephen J. Parker, director of Slavic languages and literatures at KU, said that two or three years ago his department had experienced an enormous jump in interest in undergraduate and graduate Russian-language courses.
HE SAID the increase could be attributed to a number of factors, including the increasing number of area high schools offering courses in Russian.
"And with improved relations between the United States and the Soviet Union, students often look at the possibility of usefully employing the language in various careers," he said.
According to the national survey, Spanish had the highest number of students, 533,609, and the highest overall percentage, 45 percent. Its growth in enrollment from 1986 to 1990 was nearly 30 percent.
Jon Vincent, director of KU's Center of Latin American Studies, said one in nine KU students was enrolled in a Spanish course. There are 2,981 KU students enrolled in Spanish this fall, compared with 1,716 in the spring of 1986.
"Hispanics will be the largest minority in the country at the end of the decade," Vincent said. "Many students are required to take a foreign language, and they feel they might as well take one they can use in business or in public service."
FOREIGN language enrollment is required for some KU students. Students working toward a School of Journalism degree, a bachelor of arts degree through the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, or some degrees offered by the School of Fine Arts are required to be proficient through the fourth semester-level of a foreign language, according to the College Advising Support Center.
The national survey found that Spanish, French and German maintained their rankings as the three most popular foreign languages, in that order, but that the number of students studying French declined by 1 percent, from 275,328 in 1986 to 272,555 in 1990. Enrollments in ancient Greek and Hebrew also declined.
At KU, Jan Kozma, director of French and Italian, said the number of students taking French had not decreased.
"We're holding our own in French," she said. "And Italian is just exploding. We don't know where to put all the students."
She said about 300 students were taking Italian this fall. When Kozma came to KU 14 years ago, 65 students were taking Italian.