FOREIGN/HERITAGE LANGUAGE LEARNING AT POST-SECONDARY INSTITUTIONS

In general, there is considerable interest in foreign language classes on U.S. college campuses. According to a Modern Language Association (MLA) survey, enrollments in languages other than English at American colleges and universities reached a new high of over 1.6 million course enrollments in 2009 (Furman, Goldberg, & Lusin, 2010). Figure 4.5 gives a historical view of modern language course enrollments in U.S. colleges and universities since 1960. Notice the continuous rise in enrollment numbers since 1995. But as a proportion of overall university student enrollments, enrollments in modern language courses were the same in 2006 and 2009 at 8.6 per 100 total enrollments (see Figure 4.6). Note that the 2006 and 2009 figures are significantly lower than the high of 16.5 enrollments per 100 overall enrollments in 1965 but are above the low of 7.3 enrollments per 100 overall in 1980. The MLA survey attributes the decline in foreign language enrollment ratio since 1965 to fewer and shorter language requirements found on U.S. college campuses in recent years than in the past (Furman et al., 2010).

Language Course Enrollments in U.S. Institutions of Higher Education, Excluding Latin and Ancient Greek, by Year Source

FIGURE 4.5 Language Course Enrollments in U.S. Institutions of Higher Education, Excluding Latin and Ancient Greek, by Year Source: Furman et al., 2010. Reproduced by permission of the Modern Language Association

Modern Language Course Enrollments per 100 U.S. College Total Enrollments Source

FIGURE 4.6 Modern Language Course Enrollments per 100 U.S. College Total Enrollments Source: Furman et al., 2010. Reproduced by permission of the Modern Language Association

Most Studied Languages on U.S. College Campuses, 2009 Source

FIGURE 4.7 Most Studied Languages on U.S. College Campuses, 2009 Source: Adapted from Furman et al., 2010

Figure 4.7 shows the 15 most studied languages on U.S. college campuses in 2009. Spanish is by far the most popular foreign language of choice in U.S. post-secondary institutions and has four times the enrollments of French, which is ranked second. German, American Sign Language (ASL), and Italian have the third, fourth, and fifth highest enrollments respectively. The MLA survey reports that enrollments in languages outside the 15 most commonly taught languages, classified as “Less Commonly Taught Languages” (LCTLs), grew by 21% between 2006 and 2009, following a gain of 31% between 2002 and 2006. In total, 217 LCTLs were offered for study in 2009, 35 more than in 2006. Thus, compared to the K-12 level, far more languages are offered at the college level (i.e., there is greater breadth).

But once again, the problem of lack of depth I discussed earlier with regard to K-12 foreign language instruction applies to college-level programs as well. The majority of college students in the U.S. do not go on to advanced language studies. Figure 4.8 shows advanced course enrollments as percentage of all enrollments in the top 15 languages in 2009. Enrollments in introductory classes may reflect degree requirements, whereas enrollments in advanced classes may indicate possible language minors and majors, as well as courses taken as a part of professional preparation. As can be seen in Figure 4.8, advanced classes made up more than 20% of all undergraduate student enrollments in only five languages: Chinese, Russian, Portuguese, Biblical Hebrew, and Korean. In contrast, advanced courses made up less than 10% of all undergraduate student enrollments in ASL and Italian. For the LCTLs, the picture is not much better—advanced courses made up only 16.6% of all undergraduate student enrollments in LCTLs.

In terms of heritage language instruction, a considerable number of colleges and universities with significant heritage populations offer separate tracks for heritage and non-heritage learners in a variety of languages (Kondo- Brown, 2003). However, instructional materials and strategies, and assessment procedures and instruments for heritage populations are not adequately developed for many languages. Wang (2007) observes that post-secondary Chinese language programs that have experienced rapid growth in enrollment in recent years have been scrambling to figure out how to address the issues of accommodating students from very diverse backgrounds, including those who are completely new to the language (the truly foreign language learners), and heritage and non-heritage students who have received differing amounts of Chinese instruction in K-12 schools and/or community-based schools.

Heritage learners vary widely in background characteristics, language proficiencies, and attitudes toward their home languages and cultures (Peyton et al., 2001). Kondo-Brown (2005) compared the Japanese language proficiencies of three groups of Japanese as a Heritage Language (JHL) learners with

FIGURE 4.8 Advanced Enrollments as % of all Enrollments in the Top 15 Languages, 2009 Source: Adapted from Furman et al., 2010

those of Japanese as a Foreign Language (JFL) students. She found that there were striking similarities between the JFL group and two JHL groups (JHL students with at least one Japanese-speaking grandparent but no Japanesespeaking parent as one group, and JHL students of Japanese descent with no Japanese-speaking parent or grandparent as the other). In contrast, the third group of JHL students (those with at least one Japanese-speaking parent) proved to be substantially different from the other groups in (a) grammatical knowledge, (b) listening and reading skills, (c) self-assessed use of Japanese, and (d) self-ratings of a number of can-do tasks that represented a wide range of abilities. In other words, Japanese heritage students who grew up in homes where Japanese was not spoken on a day-to-day basis acted more like JFL students. This sort of information is critical in determining the type of placement and instruction that may be most beneficial to individual students, but is lacking for most languages.

Overall, heritage language education, as a field, is still very much in infancy. Much more research will be needed to understand the learning processes of heritage speakers in a variety of familial, community, and institutional settings.

 
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