List of most commonly learned foreign languages in the United States

The tables below provide a list of foreign languages most frequently taught in American schools and colleges. They reflect the popularity of these languages in terms of the total number of enrolled students in the United States. (Here, a foreign language means any language other than English, and includes American Sign Language.)


Below are the top foreign languages studied in public K-12 schools (i.e., primary and secondary schools). The tables correspond to the 18.5% (some 8.9 million) of all K-12 students in the U.S. (about 49 million) who take foreign-language classes.[1]


K-12 students (2007-2008)
Rank Language Enrollments Percentage
1 Spanish 6,418,331 72.06%
2 French 1,254,243 14.08%
3 German 395,019 4.43%
4 Latin 205,158 2.30%
5 Japanese 72,845 0.82%
6 Italian 65,058 0.73%
7 Chinese 59,860 0.67%
8 American Sign Language 41,579 0.46%
9 Russian 12,389 0.14%
Others[2] 255,825 2.87%
Total 8,907,201 100%

Colleges and universities

Below are the top foreign languages studied in American institutions of higher education (i.e., colleges and universities), based on fall 2016 enrollments.[3]

College and university students (2016)
Rank Language Enrollments Percentage
1 Spanish 712,240 50.2%
2 French 175,667 12.4%
3 American Sign Language 107,060 7.6%
4 German 80,594 5.7%
5 Japanese 68,810 4.9%
6 Italian 56,743 4.0%
7 Chinese 53,069 3.7%
8 Arabic 31,554 2.2%
9 Latin 24,866 1.8%
10 Russian 20,353 1.4%
11 Korean 13,936 0.9%
12 Greek, Ancient 13,264 0.9%
13 Portuguese 9,827 0.7%
14 Hebrew, Biblical 9,587 0.7%
15 Hebrew, Modern 5,521 0.4%
Others 34,830 2.4%
Total 1,417,921 100%

List of top five most commonly learned languages by year

Grades K-12

Year Languages Source
1 % 2 % 3 % 4 % 5 %
2004-2005 Spanish 72.9 French 15.0 German 4.2 Latin 2.6 Japanese 0.7 [1]
2007-2008 Spanish 72.1 French 14.1 German 4.4 Latin 2.3 Japanese 0.8 [1]

Higher education

Year Languages Source
1 % 2 % 3 % 4 % 5 %
1960 French 37.9 Spanish 29.7 German 24.2 Russian 5.1 Italian 1.8 [3]
1968 French 34.4 Spanish 32.3 German 19.2 Russian 3.7 Latin 3.0
1980 Spanish 41.0 French 26.9 German 13.7 Italian 3.8 Latin 2.7
1990 Spanish 45.1 French 23.0 German 11.3 Italian 4.2 Japanese 3.9
1995 Spanish 53.2 French 18.0 German 8.5 Japanese 3.9 Italian 3.8
1998 Spanish 55.6 French 17.0 German 7.6 Italian 4.2 Japanese 3.7
2002 Spanish 53.4 French 14.5 German 6.5 Italian 4.6 American Sign 4.4
2006 Spanish 52.2 French 13.1 German 6.0 American Sign 5.1 Italian 5.0
2009 Spanish 51.4 French 12.9 German 5.7 American Sign 5.5 Italian 4.8
2013 Spanish 50.6 French 12.7 American Sign 7.0 German 5.5 Italian 4.6
2016 Spanish 50.2 French 12.4 American Sign 7.6 German 5.7 Japanese 4.9

See also


  1. ^ a b c "Foreign Language Enrollments in K–12 Public Schools" (PDF). American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL). February 2011. Retrieved October 17, 2015.
  2. ^ "Others" includes (in order of quantity) Native languages, Korean, Portuguese, Vietnamese, Arabic, Hebrew, Polish, Swahili, Turkish.
  3. ^ a b Looney, Dennis; Lusin, Natalia (February 2018). "Enrollments in Languages Other Than English in United States Institutions of Higher Education, Summer 2016 and Fall 2016 Preliminary Report" (PDF). Modern Language Association. Retrieved July 2, 2018.

External links

Less Commonly Taught Languages

Less Commonly Taught Languages (or LCTLs) is a designation used in the United States for languages other than the most commonly taught foreign languages in US public schools. The term covers a wide array of world languages (other than English), ranging from some of the world's largest and most influential languages, such as Chinese, Russian, Arabic, Hindi, Portuguese, Japanese, Persian, Urdu, and Turkish, to smaller regional languages studied in the US mainly by area experts, such as Twi, spoken in West Africa, and Finnish.

The term arose out of a need to contrast the more commonly taught languages in US K-12 public education with those normally encountered only at university level, a great divide reflected both in the US textbook industry, which caters to the existing K-12 market by necessarily focusing on the "Big Three," (Spanish, French and German) and in historical US government funding for foreign language education. (In fact, one Stanford University language educator has referred to LCTLs as the "Less Commonly Funded Languages".) To facilitate the development of instructional formats specifically for the low-enrollment languages at U.S. colleges/universities, the National Association of Self-Instructional Language Programs (NASILP) was established in the 1970s.

After 9/11, US federal departments and agencies recognized the strategic importance of LCTLs such as Arabic and, as a result, have begun funding programs for LCTLs such as the National Flagship Language Initiative (NFLI) under the auspices of the National Security Education Program (NSEP). These programs have been developed to encourage growth in the teaching of less commonly taught languages critical to national security such as Arabic, Persian, Korean, Mandarin Chinese, and Russian.

Within the US academic/educational community, previously informal links among LCTL educators crystallized into the National Council of Less Commonly Taught Languages (or NCOLCTL), "an umbrella organization for national associations and individuals interested in less commonly taught languages" founded in 1990 and based at the Indiana University Bloomington.

The Council's mission is to increase the number of Americans who choose to learn one or more of the less commonly taught languages (LCTLs) as a means of enhancing cross-cultural communication among citizens of the United States . ... The Council seeks to improve the teaching and learning of these languages and to make them more generally available. The Council is the national voice for organizations and individuals who represent the teaching of these less commonly taught languages at both the collegiate and precollegiate level . ... The Council constitutes a national mechanism devoted to strengthening the less commonly taught language professions through enabling Council members to work toward "shared solutions to common problems." The Council principally directs its efforts toward building a national architecture for the LCTL field and in making the field's resources easily accessible to language programs and individual learners around the United States.

Another active organization linking students and teachers of LCTLs is the LCTL project at CARLA, the Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition, at the University of Minnesota. The LCTL project maintains a large database of where LCTLs are taught in North American colleges/universities, k-12 schools, distance education, study abroad, and summer courses. With over 350 languages listed on the database, and approximately 3,000 schools, the database is updated daily.

In addition to the database, the LCTL project sponsors mailing lists for teachers of various LCTLs, royalty free graphics and sounds for language teachers, and a summer institute on developing material for LCTL teachers. LCTL project mailing lists]. The general public may be interested in the list of volunteer experts who have expressed their willingness to answer email about their languages [1]

In Europe, the term Lesser-Used Languages (LULs) is used by the European Union (EU) bureaucracy for languages other than the 24 "official" languages of the European Union: Bulgarian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Estonian, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Irish, Italian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Maltese, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Slovak, Slovene, Spanish, and Swedish.

Lists of languages

This page lists published lists of languages.

Modern Language Association

The Modern Language Association of America, often referred to as the Modern Language Association (MLA), is the principal professional association in the United States for scholars of language and literature. The MLA aims to "strengthen the study and teaching of language and literature". The organization includes over 25,000 members in 100 countries, primarily academic scholars, professors, and graduate students who study or teach language and literature, including English, other modern languages, and comparative literature. Although founded in the United States, with offices in New York City, the MLA's membership, concerns, reputation, and influence are international in scope.

Spanish language in the United States

The United States has forty-one million people aged five or older that speak Spanish at home, making Spanish the second most spoken language of the United States by far. Spanish is the most studied foreign language in the United States, with about six million students. With over 50 million native speakers, heritage language speakers and second language speakers, the United States now has the second largest Spanish-speaking population in the world after Mexico, although it is not an official language of the country. About half of all American Spanish speakers also assessed themselves as speaking English "very well" in the 2000 U.S. Census. This percentage increased to 57% in the 2013-2017 American Community Survey. The United States is among the Spanish-speaking countries that has its own Academy of the Spanish Language.There are more Spanish-speakers in the United States than speakers of French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Hawaiian, varieties of Chinese and Native American languages combined. According to the 2012 American Community Survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, Spanish is spoken at home by 38.3 million people aged five or older, more than twice that of 1990.The Spanish language has been present in what is now the United States since the 15th century, with the arrival of Spanish colonization in North America. Colonizers settled in areas that would later become the states of Florida, Texas, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, and California, as well as the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. The Spanish explorers explored areas of 42 future U.S. states leaving behind a varying range of Hispanic legacy in the North American continent. Western regions of the Louisiana Territory were also under Spanish rule between 1763 and 1800, after the French and Indian War, further extending the Spanish influence throughout the modern-day United States of America.

After the incorporation of these areas into the United States in the first half of the 19th century, the Spanish language was later reinforced in the country by the acquisition of Puerto Rico in 1898. Later waves of emigration from Mexico, Cuba, Venezuela, El Salvador, Argentina, and elsewhere in Hispanic America to the United States beginning in the second half of the 19th century to the present-day have strengthened the role of the Spanish language in the country. Today, Hispanics are one of the fastest growing ethnic groups in the United States, thus increasing the use and importance of American Spanish in the United States.

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