The US is a cultural, ethnic and racial melting pot with people from all over the world drawn to the country by the promise of a better life. With more than 350 languages spoken within its borders, the US is fifth worldwide regarding the number of languages spoken with Papua New Guinea coming in first. The vast numbers of languages is a testament to the country's rich immigrant history. Despite the large numbers of both native and non-native speakers who number more than 230 million, English the de facto national language, though it is not officially recognized by the national government as the country's official language.
5. Japanese - 0.82% of Students
Between 2007 and 2008, there were about 72,845 students enrolled in Japanese language representing 0.82% of all the K-12 students learning a foreign language in the US, making it the 5th most learned foreign language. At the college level in 2013, there were 66,740 students enrolled for the Japanese language.
4. Latin - 2.30% of students
In spite of its status as a dead language, Latin is dutifully studied by more than 220,000 Americans. Latin phrases are commonly used in diverse fields such as theology, medicine, and law. Studying Latin is also vital for those who wish to develop a deeper understanding of the English language as English traces its roots to Latin. After studying Latin students find it tremendously easier to study and master another language.
3. German - 4.43% of students
Approximately 482,000 Americans study German in both primary education institutions and institutions of higher learning which is about 4.6% of the total. Most American students who choose to pursue German do so out of a desire to work in Europe where the language is more prevalent than in North America. Studying German also enables one to read the works of great German poets and authors such as Thomas Mann and Hermann Hesse in the original language as well as enjoy the German culture.
2. French - 14.08% of students
According to statistics about 1.25 million foreign language students in primary education institutions choose to study French which is only around 14% of the total. The number drops to about 12.7% in higher education institutions. French is mainly spoken in two US states, Maine and Louisiana, partly due to the history of both states. Louisiana was part of a territory previously owned and controlled by the French and was only acquired by the US in 1803. The French were the first group of Europeans to settle in Maine. Americans choose to learn French to increase the number of jobs open to them as well as to enjoy the rich French culture and traditions.
1. Spanish - 72.06% of students
Most people in the US who choose to learn a foreign language, at least 72% according to some estimates, decide to learn Spanish. Spanish is a popular choice as it is the most widely spoken language in Mexico which shares a 1950 mile border with the US to the south. Spanish is also popular due to a large number of Hispanic people in the country who exceed 55 million according to 2016 estimates. Studying Spanish improves the student's chances of finding a job in an increasingly competitive job market. Learning Spanish allows the students to communicate with more people in their communities as not everyone is fluent in English. Studying Spanish also gives students a chance to understand Spanish culture which is very popular in the US. The Association of Spanish Language Academies forecast that the US will have the most Spanish speakers of any country by 2050.
About the Author
Benjamin Elisha Sawe holds a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Statistics and an MBA in Strategic Management. He is a frequent World Atlas contributor.
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