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Archive for Friday, October 21, 1994

SPANISH CLASSES ARE NUMERO UNO

October 21, 1994

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College students nationwide agree

Language courses offer Kansas University students a multitude of ways of conveying the same message.

For example:

  • Es popular estudiar espanol en KU.
  • a KU, le francais nest plus la langue etrangere de predilechon.

In English, these sentences mean that more of today's college students are drawn to Spanish classes rather than the old-time favorite -- French.

Roberta Johnson, chair of KU's Spanish and Portuguese department, said graduate student enrollment had quadrupled in the department in five years.

"This is fueled primarily by the need to staff our lower-division language program, which has grown commensurately," she said.

At KU, there were 1,311 students in basic Spanish courses in 1980. Enrollment peaked at 2,293 in 1991, and hovers in the 1,800-student range.

The shift at KU reflects a national trend, which has nearly half of the 1.2 million U.S. students enrolled in foreign-language courses studying Spanish.

Growing interest in Spanish the past 30 years has cut into French and German language enrollment.

In 1960, 229,000 students studied French, 179,000 studied Spanish and 146,000 studied German. By 1990, 534,000 were enrolled in Spanish, 272,000 were in French and 133,000 studied German.

Johnson said college students believe proficiency in Spanish may help them succeed in a job market which offers opportunity for bilingual workers in this country and abroad.

"Economic motivation is probably one thing that can be singled out in the boom," she said.

The international consulting firm KPMG Peat Marwick reported a survey of corporate executives showed that 40 percent planned to hire people fluent in Spanish.

Another reason for the popularity of Spanish courses is the simple desire of folks to communicate with neighbors, store clerks and other people in the community.

Enrollment of Hispanic students at KU has increased every year since 1983.

"Clearly, the Hispanic population is increasing at a very rapid rate," Johnson said. "That's going to make Spanish an interesting language for students."

College classes in Spanish have always been popular in the West and Southwest, she said.

"This increase in Spanish enrollment is a new phenomenon to the Midwest and the East Coast," Johnson said.

She said many students prefer to learn Spanish because they've been subliminally exposed to Spanish words and culture in a way they aren't with German and French.

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