AN alternative viewpoint on a popular film, brought to you...

salmagundi

January 23, 1995

AN alternative viewpoint on a popular film, brought to you by the daily NY Lite feature of the New York Times News Service:

"Spilling out of the theater after an evening showing of 'Little Women,' the mostly female crowd is all aglow with this wholesome movie about simpler times.

"Through a plate-glass window we can see large snowflakes beginning to descend gently. We queue up at the escalators and greet the city streets with smiles. Suddenly a loud voice interrupts the scene: 'Am I the only one who hated that movie?'

"Only one woman responds in the affirmative: 'No! And I'm not afraid to admit it!' "

* * *

AMERICANS are world-famous for letting other folks learn our language if they want to talk to us. But statistics from the Modern Language Association suggest that increasingly we are reaching out to talk to them.

Between 1986 and 1990 (the latest year for which data are available) language-class enrollments in two-year and four-year colleges rose from 1,003,234 students to 1,184,100. That's an 18 percent increase.

The five most popular languages are Spanish (whose enrollments jumped by 30 percent), French (down 1 percent), German, Italian and Japanese -- which nearly doubled the number of enrollments over the five-year period. They are followed by Russian, Latin, Chinese, Ancient Greek, Hebrew, Portuguese and Arabic.

More than 100 other languages are being studied in college, including Korean, American Sign, Swahili, Swedish, Hawaiian, Norwegian, Polish and Modern Greek.

Bringing up the rear are Amharic (two students) and Fula and Mandingo (one each).

More high school students, too, are taking foreign languages -- 38 percent of them, the highest proportion since 1928. Spanish overtook French in 1948 as the most popular high school language; it is studied by nearly one-quarter of high schoolers enrolled in any foreign language.

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