If you peered through the window of Luke Bandeen’s (’17) Chinese classroom just two years ago, you would have seen “the smallest language class” he has ever been in. This picture has changed dramatically since then. Two years later, the number of students taking Chinese is growing, and Bandeen thinks changes around the world may have something to do with it.
Newly-introduced languages, such as Chinese and Arabic, are on the rise at ASL, surpassing the uniform Spanish and French languages classes. Participation in these classes currently makes up 14-15 percent of the student population. “We do see a rise in the number of students who are taking more [languages] than French and Spanish. More and more students are taking French or Spanish as well as Chinese, Arabic or one of the DISLP [Directed Independent Study of Language Program] languages,” K-12 World Languages and Culture Department Head Lanting Xu said.
Xu explained that Chinese especially is beginning to appeal to a wider population of the school. “In the past this has been the esoteric language that only the culturally elite actually bothered to learn and now we actually democratize these traditionally esoteric languages and make it available to everybody,” she said.
The rise in popularity of these languages can partly be attributed to the global economy. China’s rising participation in the global economy makes Chinese an increasingly important language. Bandeen, who is currently taking Chinese, has monitored the growth and believes this may be one of the reasons for this change. “China is becoming more and more powerful, and is having a larger impact on the world stage,” he said.
Isabelle Preddy (’15), who is taking Japanese as part of the DISLP, has also noticed more students taking Japanese. “There are more people in my class and my friends are also talking about DISLP a lot more,” Preddy said.
Arabic Teacher Ouma Alemadi, the newest addition to the language department faculty, makes a habit of asking her students why they decided to take Arabic. The answer is always the same. “Their answer [is] they are learning it because it will really help them get good jobs, especially at the government level,” she said.
Alemadi also emphasized that the importance of the language is growing especially in terms of business. “I think it’s getting more important for financial incentives,” she said. “For people to be able to do business [in Arabic speaking countries] they need to know the language and the culture.”
Language is on the rise in both the ASL community and in the U.K. The U.K. government recently announced that from age 7 it will be compulsory for all to take a second language, with the purpose of giving students an advantage on a global scale. Before this became mandatory, 10 percent of primary schools around the U.K. did not teach a second language at all, while a further 20 percent of schools only offered language to specific age groups.
Despite the clear advantages of the U.K. instilling this new mandate there may still be some issues. “Personally I think learning has to be a matter of choice and not a mandate,” Xu said. She believes students won’t necessarily be able to cope with the languages that are being thrown at them. “Students should always be given the choice and they should be allowed to make the choices based on their personal interest and temperament,” she added. “I think that is important.”