Published: December 8, 2010 While the number of college students studying Spanish, French and German increased only modestly from 2006 to 2009, enrollment in American Sign Language — the fourth most-popular language — surged more than 16 percent, according to a new report from the Modern Language Association. Sign-language professors suggested various reasons for the rise. They said it reflected the growing acceptance of American Sign Language to meet college foreign-language requirements, and its usefulness as an employment credential — not only for interpreters, but also for cognitive psychologists, educators, nurses and even scuba divers. With the deep budget cuts of the recession, some universities have cut back their language programs. Even so, enrollment in foreign-language classes grew 6.6 percent from 2006 to 2009 — compared with 12.9 percent from 2002 to 2006 — according to the report, “Enrollments in Languages Other Than English in United States Institutions of Higher Education, Fall 2009.” “This is a vulnerable time for language study,” said Rosemary Feal, executive director of the Modern Language Association. “But student interest remains strong.” Foreign-language enrollment in 2009 was 1,682,627, an all-time high. But language courses accounted for 8.6 percent of college classes, the same as in 2006. In 1965, the percentage was 16.5. And while undergraduate language study increased, especially at two-year institutions, graduate-school foreign-language enrollment declined 6.7 percent from 2006 to 2009. As in past years, Spanish accounted for more than half of all foreign-language study. A few languages with clear geopolitical importance had larger increases than American Sign Language: Arabic, the fastest growing, was up 46 percent, Korean 19 percent and Chinese 18 percent. After long debate about whether American Sign Language is a real language — and whether it qualifies as a foreign language — a few universities now offer a major or minor in it, and many more accept sign language for their foreign-language requirement. More than 90,000 students enrolled in sign-language classes last year, compared with only 4,304 in 1995. Many colleges have long waiting lists of students trying to get into introductory A.S.L. classes, a substantial share of them turning to sign language because of their previous difficulties learning European languages. “Some students take it because when they took Spanish or French in high school, it was horrific and they think this will be better,” said Amy Ruth McGraw, who teaches at the University of Iowa, where about 200 students study sign language. “And if their problem was auditory, or the accent, this might be better. But if it was memorizing vocabulary and grammar, this isn’t going to be any better.” According to the Modern Language Association, only about half the nation’s colleges now include foreign-language study as a requirement for graduation, down from about two-thirds 15 years ago. ….click here to read article in its entirety.