Increased enrollment in foreign languages at St. Thomas follows national trend

College students across the nation are taking more foreign language classes, and St. Thomas students are following the trend.

A Modern Language Association study found enrollment in foreign language courses increased 6.6 percent between 2006 and 2009. Some St. Thomas professors and students said a degree in a foreign language makes graduates more marketable.

“It goes beyond the core requirement. Students are realizing that languages are becoming important for professions, whether it’s business, medicine or legal professions-almost anything,” said Don Miller, language department chair. “Adding on a minor or major in a language makes a difference in marketability for their jobs, and for their future.”

The study found Arabic had the largest increase in student interest in the last three years.  Miller said the university has also seen an increase in the non-traditional language.

St. Thomas sophomore Nina Ricceri  is an Arabic major.

“I decided to take Arabic to go with a political science major because I found the area interesting,” Ricceri said. “I ended up liking Arabic so much that I changed my major.”

Ricceri said the U.S. government ranks Arabic as one of the hardest languages to learn.

“There are lots of government scholarships for critical languages like Arabic,” she said. “I like the challenge and I will have a good outlook after graduation.”

Miller said he has seen a significant increase in student interest, which has allowed for new languages to be added, as well as for expansions in other areas such as Spanish.

“Over the last three or four years, we’ve seen gradual increases in enrollment in all of our basic language departments,” Miller said. “We just opened sections of Italian in the fall. We started with one section, and it filled within a week or two. Then we went to two sections. Now in the spring, we’re having to add three sections.”

Miller said the number of students taking German has doubled in the past few years, and the Spanish faculty has grown.

“We have been adding part time faculty, and we’re looking at adding more,” Miller said. “Probably the next language we’ll be adding will be Mandarin.”

The department may even consider adding American sign language in the future, he said. About two years ago, the language department started accepting ASL for the foreign language and culture core requirement.

“It’s all based on the interests of the students,” Miller said. “We’ll add or subtract based on the needs of the student body.”

Ryan Shaver and Ashley Stewart contributed to this report.

Theresa Malloy can be reached at