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Indian languages have few takers in US
Saturday February 21, 2015 5:05 PM, Arun Kumar, IANS

Despite the Indian economy's rapid growth and the increase in US-India ties, American students continue to display low interest in Indian languages, preferring instead languages like Chinese, Korean or Arabic, according to a new language survey.

Students in US colleges and universities are not signing up for Indian languages at remotely the scale languages like Arabic, Chinese or Korean experience, a South Asia expert noted citing the survey by the Modern Language Association (MLA).

"Indian languages follow a path less travelled," wrote Alyssa Ayres, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, citing MLA's quadrennial language enrolments survey of foreign languages in US higher education.

"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, she noted

Nor has India's economic rise resulted in the dramatic growth in numbers languages like Japanese, Chinese, and Korean have seen, Ayers said.

"Of course it's harder to compare India's many languages with each of these, but even when including all the Indian language enrolments in the United States combined, the number still doesn't cross 4,000," she noted.

For 2013, Indian language enrolments dropped to 3,090 from the 3,924 of 2009. These included Hindi (1800), Hindi-Urdu (533), Urdu (349), Punjabi (124), Tamil (82), Bengali (64), Telugu (51), Malayalam (44), Nepali (27), Gujarati (6) Kannada (5) and Marathi (5).

Ayers contrasted it 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.

"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 said.

The pattern appears as well in US study abroad destinations, where India does not even make the top ten, Ayers said.

According to the survey during 2013, the year the newly-released data covers, foreign language enrolments dropped overall by 6.7 percent since the prior survey year, 2009.

Only four languages saw increases in their enrolments from 2009 to 2013:

Korean, with a whopping nearly 45 percent, American Sign Language, Portuguese and Chinese.

The most studied foreign language in the US was Spanish, with nearly 800,000 enrolments, and French occupied the second slot with nearly 200,000.

(Arun Kumar can be contacted at

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