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UNG foreign language enrollment on the rise, despite national trend

According to a new study by the Modern Language Association, enrollment in language courses other than English fell 9.2 percent in colleges and universities across the country between 2013 and fall 2016.

That’s not the case at University of North Georgia.

UNG’s enrollment numbers are increasing exponentially based on figures in the MLA language enrollment database. The study’s full report, due this summer, will announce the top performing schools in each language.

Figures for Farsi, Japanese, Latin, Italian and Portuguese were unavailable for the MLA study. The MLA did not include the Russian language in its study.

Based on UNG figures, Russian had an enrollment of 204 in fall 2013 and 360 in fall 2017. This marked a 75 percent increase in enrollment. 

UNG offers 12 foreign languages and has seen increases in the following:

• 29 percent in Arabic

• 17 percent in Chinese

• 126 percent in French

• 229 percent in German

• 36 percent in Korean

•  288 percent in Spanish

Japanese enrollment increase from 60 in fall 2013 to 105 in fall 2017, Latin increased from 21 to 28 and Italian increased from 15 to 72.

Farsi was offered for the first time in fall 2016. By the spring of 2017, 13 students were enrolled in the elementary courses, with six students enrolling in the fall of 2017. Portuguese classes will be available to students in fall 2018.

UNG offers major and minor coursework in Spanish and Modern Languages with concentrations in Arabic, Chinese, Russian, and Spanish. Languages with a minor or associate degree at this time include German, Italian, Japanese, and Korean.

Based on the MLA database for public and private Georgia institutions, UNG is ranked second in enrollment numbers in Arabic and ranked third in Chinese and Spanish.

Christopher Jespersen, dean of the College of Arts and Letter, said the key to the increase in foreign languages is the systematic roll out of additional languages each year. He explained that in 2005 UNG only offered two languages degree programs — French and Spanish.

“In 2006, we added Chinese because it was deemed a strategic language by the Department of Defense,” Jespersen said. “It had a utility for the Corps of Cadets, and it attracted civilian students.”

Once it opened, students enrolled en masse.

“Student interest really drove it from a few courses and then to a minor in Chinese and finally to a major,” Jespersen said.

Christopher “Kalub” Anderson, a senior majoring in Spanish, has experienced the benefits of the expanded offerings first hand. The 21-year-old from Villa Rica attended the Summer Language Institute (SLI) program in Chinese as a freshman. Anderson also selected Russian to be his minor when it was offered.

“The Russian program here is phenomenal,” he said, explaining he finished the course work for his minor in 10 months.

D. Brian Mann attributes the learning curve of students to the high caliber of staff hired at UNG.

“These master’s level professors focus exclusively on teaching the languages,” said Dr. D. Brian Mann, department head of Modern and Classical Languages at UNG. “That’s the formula we’ve found works to teach these strategic languages.”

This strategy led UNG to earning grants, including the Project Global Officer (GO) in 2008 and the Chinese Language Flagship Program in 2011.

Project GO is often the starting point for cadets with an international interest to study abroad and pursue language studies. This month, UNG awarded Project GO scholarships to 21 cadets nationwide to study aboard in summer 2018.

The Chinese Language Flagship Program is designed to provide intensive Chinese language and culture education in conjunction with ROTC requirements. UNG is the only ROTC-designated flagship program in the nation. In October 2016, UNG’s program was renewed for another four-year, $1.2 million grant as the third cohort of students started their capstone year in China.

Following its success with Chinese, UNG added more languages including Korean, Latin, Japanese, and Russian. While German courses had been offered in 2005, it was added as a minor in 2008.

“We are planning to add Portuguese soon,” Jespersen said.

Each additional language and its subsequent success has raised UNG’s international profile.

“Students are specifically coming here to study languages,” Mann said.

In spring 2016, the Japan Foundation awarded UNG a $400,000 grant to introduce a concentration in Japanese studies. This spring, the Qatar Foundation International LLC awarded a grant to UNG for its Arabic SLI program.

Jespersen said providing these languages as another tool for students to take advantage of helps them with their future careers.

“We’ve seen so many students grow personally as well as professionally through their language studies, and that has allowed them to win major awards such as Boren, Gilman and Fulbright,” Jespersen said. “They have also gone onto graduate school or found an exciting job. It’s their success that makes all this so rewarding.”

Mckenna Rogness, a senior majoring in Spanish, can attest to that. The 22 year old from Suwanee said her language skills helped land her a job as a flight attendant for American Airlines.

“I could’ve applied for [a] regular flight attendant job, but they were looking for people who spoke another language,” she said. “I applied for the Spanish-speaking flight attendant job. Because I knew Spanish, majored in Spanish and lived in Spain for a year through my study aboard at UNG, it put me ahead of the crowd.”