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Few takers for Indian languages in the US

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Updated: February 21, 2015, 6:39 PM IST
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Few takers for Indian languages in the US
The Modern Language Association (MLA) has released its quadrennial language enrollments survey of foreign languages in US higher education that shows students in American universities are not signing up for Indian languages.

Washington: Despite the Indian economy's rapid growth and the increase in Indo-US ties, Indian languages follow a path less travelled as few students take them up for study in the US, according to a new survey.

The Modern Language Association (MLA) has released its quadrennial language enrollments survey of foreign languages in US higher education that shows students in American colleges and universities are not signing up for Indian languages at remotely the scale languages like Arabic, Chinese or Korean experience.

"Indian languages follow a path less travelled," Alyssa Ayres - senior fellow for India, Pakistan and South Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations - wrote, citing the survey. "The big post-9/11 national security interest that resulted in many more Americans studying Arabic did not have the same impact on Indian languages. (And frankly, the uptick for Pakistani languages still resulted in enrollments under 500 for every Pakistani language-a topic for another discussion.)

"Nor has India's economic rise resulted in the dramatic growth in numbers languages like Japanese, Chinese, and Korean have seen. Of course it's harder to compare India's many languages with each of these, but even when including all the Indian language enrollments in the United States combined, the number still doesn't cross 4,000," she said.

The South Asia expert noted that for 2013, Indian language enrollments dropped to 3,090 from the 3,924 of 2009, with 1,800 students opting for Hindi, 533 for Hindi-Urdu, 349 for Urdu, 124 for Punjabi, 82 for Tamil, 64 for Bengali, 51 for Telugu, 44 for Malayalam, 27 for Nepali, 6 for Gujarati, 5 for Kannada and 5 for Marathi.

Ayres said the figures were very slim compared with the scale of study that Japanese (nearly 67,000), Chinese (over 61,000), and Korean (more than 12,000) had in the US during 2013. The pattern appears as well in US study abroad destinations, where India does not even make to the top ten. She said the survey reflected the priority of American students and they did not put the Indian languages high on their preference.

"Whenever I make this comparative statement, I receive emails and comments from people noting that English is an Indian language, so why should anyone bother with learning others? It's true that English is an official language of India, along with Hindi, and that is not my argument.

"In the business world, people speak English across Asia, so the issue isn't narrowly one of ability to communicate. Rather, it's more an observation of the priority American students appear to place on developing a deeper and more place-specific knowledge of a country.

"In the case of India and its official and many other languages, I'm afraid that Americans do not see these as a high priority compared with other choices," she wrote. Spanish had the highest number of enrollments with the figure reaching 790,756 while French was at the number two with 197,757 enrollments.

First Published: February 21, 2015, 6:39 PM IST
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