Foreign language courses are experiencing a decline in enrollment


He can see into the future.

Often his day begins at 4.30am, where he can study in silence for his Mandarin exams before his two children wake up for school.

Eden Warner is a 56-year-old UCLA business school graduate, businesswoman, former Fandango CFO, tech entrepreneur, and student at El Camino College.

At 6 a.m., he cooks his children’s breakfasts, makes sure they’re out of bed, then takes them to the bus stop.

With the kids safe on their way to school, Warner returns to his Culver City home to see his mother. He then prepares the material for an afternoon meeting in West LA with a potential investor for his new mobile marketing company, Treever.

But before he goes to the reunion, where he hopes to raise $ 1.5 million for his new venture, he has to take a 10:30 am Mandarin exam at El Camino College.

Although bilingualism is a highly sought-after skill in the job market and the growing popularity of language learning apps, Warner is part of an increasingly small group of community college students in the Los Angeles area. enrolled in foreign language courses.

“I wish I had more time because I’m starting a new business, I have two kids, I just moved my mom a year ago, so I take care of her, so I’m really, really busy” , Warner said. .

Regardless of his busy schedule, Warner chose to take Mandarin at ECC instead of using an online platform, as “Chinese is tonal” and the different intonations are difficult to understand without human interaction, Warner said.

“When I quit my last job, I decided I was going to learn a language; I decided I was going to learn a language that would challenge me, ”Warner said. “I decided I would choose Mandarin.”

During the spring semester 2019, 1,136 students enrolled in foreign language courses at ECC, the lowest number in five years.

Eden Warner, 56, listens to her Chinese 2 teacher speak Mandarin at El Camino College on Thursday, November 21. Warner began to learn Mandarin while working in China.

El Camino is not alone.

Los Angeles area community colleges: Cerritos College, Santa Monica College, Pasadena City College Long Beach City College and El Camino College have all experienced a five-year drop in foreign language enrollment according to the Office of the Chancellor of the Community Colleges of California.

Meanwhile, foreign language learning apps like Rosetta Stone, Babbel, and Duolingo have steadily grown in popularity over the same period.

While Duolingo has accumulated a base of nearly 30 million monthly users according to its published figures, competitor Rosetta Stone plans to add more than 100,000 subscribers in 2019, an increase of 24% from the previous year. , according to its report on second quarter 2019 results.

Of the five colleges surveyed by The Union, El Camino both recorded the largest drop in foreign language enrollment and was the only college to show no increase in the past five years.

Santa Monica College experienced the smallest overall decline in foreign language enrollment of the five colleges reviewed by The Union. From the fall semester of 2014 to the spring semester of 2019, SMC saw a drop in foreign language enrollment by half a percent of its total student population, while El Camino saw a decline of 2.3%.

“Cal States no longer require foreign languages ​​prior to transfer.” The ECC’s associate dean of the humanities division, said Scott Kushigemachi. “Before, when it was a requirement, [taking a foreign language course] was easy to sell to a student.

ECC transfer advisor Rosie Miranda tells all her students that the CSU system does not require the transfer of foreign language credits, but she doesn’t think CSU policy explains the recent drop in enrollment in El Camino.

“They don’t need to take a foreign language [to transfer to CSU], not at all. They also don’t need a foreign language to graduate from a CSU, unless their major is somewhere in languages, ”said Miranda.

Toni Trives, chair of the Modern Languages ​​and Culture Department at Santa Monica College, has been teaching Spanish for over 30 years and also doesn’t believe CSU politics explain the decline.

“The CSU thing is a rumor. It had no impact on foreign language enrollment at SMC, ”Trives said.

Although the University of California system requires the transfer of foreign languages, many students may have this requirement waived before setting foot on a college campus by achieving sufficiently good results on their advanced foreign language placement exam. (AP) in high school, Miranda said.

This was the case for Haely Ortiz, 20, an English major: “I don’t take a foreign language at El Camino because I have an AP score. [Spanish] that agitates that requirement for CSU and UC, so I really don’t need to take that here, ”Ortiz said.

Regardless of CSU and UC policy, Santa Monica College has successfully defied the declining trend in foreign language enrollment.

“We have had a strong program for many years and have worked hard by offering language promotion clubs and collaborating with different disciplines to educate students about languages ​​in disciplines such as early childhood education, business, health sciences and communication studies, ”Trives said.

During the 2019 semester, 1,744 Santa Monica College students were enrolled in a foreign language course out of 28,380 students, or 6.1% of the student body. At El Camino College, 1,136 students were enrolled in a foreign language course out of 23,328 students, or 4.8% of the student body, according to the chancellor’s office of California Community College.

Ryan F Language Stats.png

Another way for Santa Monica College to maintain a higher foreign language enrollment rate than its counterparts is the Federal Foreign Language and Foreign Language Teaching Scholarship, Title VI, which it requested and received in 2016, Trives said.

The Title VI grant is designed to promote the teaching of foreign languages. This has enabled Santa Monica College to offer study abroad programs focused on language acquisition and to host a series of lectures with guests from various professions including businessmen, broadcasters, teachers and health professionals, Trivas said.

El Camino College did not apply for the Title VI grant, Kushigemachi said.

“We did things with a similar intention [to Santa Monica College], but it’s not like we have a full grant dedicated to this kind of activity. I think that kind of resource would be a big plus, ”Kushigemachi said.

Chinese and Japanese teacher David Shan said he wanted to see more promotion of foreign languages ​​at ECC.

“I want to see our advisers encourage students to plan for the future in different ways and encourage students to take foreign languages,” Shan said.

“I think we encourage a lot of students to take classes that they might not be comfortable with,” said Miranda. “But at the end of the day, they have the option; they have to decide.

Another possible explanation for the drop in enrollment could be that students who wish to learn a foreign language are choosing to study with software, rather than risking harming their GPA.

ECC Spanish teacher Andrés Moina gave the Union his opinion on language learning technologies.

“Babbel, Rosetta Stone, I know them, Duolingo, they are good but they need a structure because for me, most of these applications are intended for people who already know, already have training, and who need of a foreign language to travel, survive, and communicate with people, but not with academia, ”Moina said.

For students interested in learning languages ​​who use software instead of taking classes, Moina said apps and other programs aren’t a sufficient substitute for classroom and human conversation.

“For foreign languages ​​you need a solid curriculum in all skills, not just writing and reading, which is pretty much what they can do with open resources. [software]”Said Moina.” You need to talk, you need to listen, you need exposure to culture.

Moina, Shan, Miranda, and Kushigemachi all said the workload of a four-unit foreign language course can be intimidating for students.

“It’s a four-credit course, most foreign languages, so when you add three more courses, they know that course will require practical work and additional work,” Miranda said.

Instead of being intimidated by the four-unit course, Shan encourages students not to fear the learning process and to think more broadly about the opportunities that speaking a foreign language may offer in the future.

“You don’t just want to look at your local situation, you want to see the bigger environment,” Shan said. “In the larger market, the foreign language will certainly make students more marketable.”

It was Warner’s business career and his willingness to engage in another culture that originally brought him to China and inspired him to learn Mandarin.

While working in Beijing for the oil company Arco, Warner began to see the benefit of learning Mandarin, he said.

On exam day at El Camino, students rushed into the classroom, exchanging chatter and jokes in Mandarin with their teacher, David Shan.

Some of them seemed a little nervous, but not Eden Warner.

He sat in the center row towards the back of the classroom, examining his textbook and handwritten Chinese notes with humble confidence and a broad smile.

Shan said of Warner and his other students dedicated to teaching foreign languages ​​that “they can see the future.”

Editor’s note: The title has been updated to accurately reflect the article on Thursday, December 12 at 9:10 a.m.


Sylvester L. Goldfarb