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Foreign Language Enrollments in K-12 Public Schools: Are Students Ready for a Global Society?

ACTFL’s enrollment study found that from 2004–05 to 2007–08 more K–12 public school students enrolled in foreign language courses, yet, despite this increase, only 18.5% of all students were enrolled. Compared to other nations where nearly all students study a second or third language, the overall picture remains unsatisfactory. Looking forward, the impact of the current economic situation on public school budgets presents a potential threat to these gains. Enrollment levels should be studied annually to fully understand impacts, such as economic conditions, on our national language capability pipeline, which will determine our national ability to meet future public and private sector demand for language skills. This highlights the need for all states to track language enrollments (only 34 states as of 2007–08) and for standardized reporting across states.

View data tables.

How Can Language Education Be Improved in U.S. Public Schools?

Although this project found increasing student enrollment—a positive sign during a period of loss of foreign language teachers, programs, and resources—these increases are not enough. Our economic, military, and humanitarian needs require a multilingual population that begins with language education throughout grades K–12. To meet these requirements, we need to:

  1. Set foreign language enrollment and education standards that make American students internationally competitive;
  2. Enroll students in foreign language courses earlier and continue in a well-articulated sequence through high school graduation and beyond;
  3. Provide more opportunities and resources for students to study foreign languages; and
  4. Improve data quality, and continue to regularly analyze the status of foreign language course enrollments.

This report was made possible by a grant from the U.S. Department of Education. Data preparation was done by SWA Consulting, Inc. and the publishing of the report was generously provided by Santillana USA.

Learn About National Language Enrollments

How many students in K–12 schools in the United States are studying foreign languages? Are these numbers on the increase or decrease—and in which languages? What do educators, administrators, and researchers need to know about these trends?

ACTFL's publication, Foreign Language Enrollments in K–12 Public Schools: Are Students Prepared for a Global Society?, presents enrollment data in U.S. public schools in two years: 2004–05 and 2007–08, analyzes the data, and finds some areas of concern regarding the percentage of students enrolled in language courses.

Date: 
Tuesday, May 26, 2015