Unprecedented Rise in PersianLanguage Enrollment

By Jeff Baron, America.gov

 July 29, 2010, Washington, D.C. — Persian is a hot subject on U.S. college campuses, with students registering for courses in the language in unprecedented numbers.

Surveys of colleges and universities by the Modern Language Association have shown large gains in registration for classes in Persian (also called Farsi): up 82 percent from fall 1998 to fall 2002, and up 82 percent again from fall 2002 to fall 2006. (Enrollment in all foreign language classes generally rose in those periods, but at a much slower pace: by 17 percent from 1998 to 2002 and by 12.9 percent from 2002 to 2006.) The next four-year survey is due out in 2011, and those in the profession say it’s clear the number of students continues to rise substantially, spurred in part by a U.S. government effort, begun in 2006, to encourage the teaching of Persian as well as Arabic, Chinese, Hindi, Swahili, Turkish and Urdu.

Pardis Minuchehr, a University of Pennsylvania faculty member and president of the American Association of Teachers of Persian, said students have a number of reasons for taking her courses in Persian, but one dominates: About half are “heritage speakers,” who learned only a limited level of the language, or none, from parents or grandparents who were born in Iran. As young adults, they want to reclaim that part of their culture and communicate more easily with their extended families. 

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