College Classroom Foreign-Language Learning: Ubi Vadis?

Language Learning in Anonymity - A Digital Dilemma

By 2013, many foreign-language teaching organizations, national and state level, had developed aggressive and convincing arguments about the value of froeign language learning, including its role in cognitive development and brain growth and social development, with a very specific focus on its functions in a variety of careers. These had a respectably wide public distribution. An article in a well-known general-readership business forum gives a strong endorsement to language learning:

Kurtz, Anderson. "The hottest job skill is...". The New American Workplace, CNN Money (11/30/13)   

This came on top of a tradition of endorsements, reflected in

$$World Languages = Career Opportunities$$   

However, the foreign-language teaching profession got a surprise from a study conducted in 2013.
The MLA college "Enrollments in Languages Other Than English in United States Institutions of Higher Education" (David Goldberg, Dennis Looney, and Natalia Lusin) for Fall  2013 was released as a web publication in February 2015

The report shows an overall downturn in college foreign-language (which included ASL) enrollment of 6.7% (98,989) since the last survey in 2009;  a drop from 8.7% to 8.1% of students out of 100 (general college enrollment) taking a foreign language. See

Enrollments in Languages Other Than English in United States Institutions of Higher Education, Fall 2009  

A study begun in 2016:

The Recent US College Foreign Language Enrollment Drop - Context Is Key   

suggests several possible reasons for the diminishing enrollment between 2009 and 2013: shrinking general post-secondary enrollment, the return of jobs during the recovery from recession, the disappearance of core courses and language requirements in the wake of the "graduate-in-four" movement, high-school dual enrollment courses,  growth and promotion of English-language exceptionalism,. A parallel drop in general Humanities enrollment suggests that an increase in STEM and Pre-professional programs may be a contributing factor By my own count as Founding Chair of the AATF Commission on Advocacy, scores of college foreign-language programs were threatened, cut or eliminated in at least 35 states between 2009 and 2013. This is the most obvious and direct factor in the decline. 

There is another possibility, which touches bases with the context of reasons offered, and is also a product of a demographic situation which has not been fully understood. Look at public post-secondary institutions. Their student bodies are no longer college-age, just out of high school young people with no idea of how responsibilities will effect them. Some have left sustaining full-time work, dissatisfied or laid-off. 38% are non-trads, 70% have some kind of paid employment, 20% are full time, 27% have child-care responsibilities, How do these factors result in a sizeable and constant decline in college-classroom foreign-language enrollment? 

To begin with, these digital natives are more often than not unable to conform to the demanding schedules of distributed practice proposed by educators for second-language acquisition. If they don't have to go, they won't. Those who are bold enough may try to bargain with teachers about schedule.  Still there are others who understand enough about their future career demands to know they will need foreign-language skills.

Is it possible these students are drawn to the anonymity and independence of online experiences? Before we answer, we need to mention a fundamental human reaction to language learning in a public space: foreign-language anxiety (xenoglossophobia), with fears of public errors, disapproval of teachers, ridicule of  peers, especially in aural/oral activities. The consequential mental blocks, short-term memory lapses, as well as avoidance and passivity strategies to deal with our fears. All of these may inhibit our ability to actually learn a language in the public space of a classroom. It is also, as research testifies, an important factor inhibiting people from learning a foreign language. We must not forget that we are all, app-or-online-enabled participants in a digital age. Certainly all of our students are digital natives, , having grown up with computers.

Americans are flooded with an abundance of the very devices which facilitate anonymous, independent, and very mobile learning. 45% of us have tablet computers, and 68% have smartphones, according to

Technology Device Ownership: 2015 (Pew Research, 8/29/15)   

Another portrait of American digital natives, showing the download of 75 million apps to iOS and Android OS mobile devces,  can be found in  the " Key App Usage Statistics of

Artyom Dogtiev, "App Usage Statistics: 2015 Roundup" (Business of Apps)  

In 2013, 84% of American adults were internet users, mostly wireless:

Americans’ Internet Access: 2000-2015 (Pew Research, 6/26/15)   

Pew research, in analyzing the ways in which we are now life-long learners, finds that a quarter of all Americans have had online instruction about something that interests the, and 16% have taken full online courses.

Lifelong Learning and Technology (Pew Research 1/22/16)   

As far back as 2004, Pew Research and members of an Elon University research team noted: " that by 2014, online learning systems would be regularly implemented daily by most students in the U.S., allowing them to make their own appropriate choices and learn at their own pace."

Theme 4: Training and learning systems will not meet 21st‑century needs by 2026 (Pew Research)  

Will these independent souls be on a solitary quest and need the organizational skills of a teacher?  Not at all; intelligence, grit and some flexibility.  There are dozens of post-secondary institutions with independent language study programs and centers. They may encourage particularly gifted and dedicated students to learn a language using their resources and advice. They may encourage students to study for a CLEP or placement test. They may facilitate a student's preparation for an emersion experience. They may facilitate practice by connecting students with native speakers through skype. They may simply provide material to enhance regular classroom learning..

MOOCs (Massively Open Online Courses)

In the early 2000s colleges and universities began clustering open and institutionally designed learning resources. Course-level MOOCs first appeared in 2006, becoming very popular around 2012, just before the last MLA survey. These are now sponsored both by post-seconday institutions and companies. Databases show several hundred language-learning MOOCs

MOOC LIST - Languages & Literature

The Independent Language-Learning Industry

In 2008, International Telecommunications Union-Radio communications sector, set the standards for 4G mobile networks. From 2012, most smart phones ran on 4G. This was very helpful for the delivery of resources to mobile independent and online foreign-language learners.

VoIP and the integration of webcams into laptop screens, significant in the development of videotelephony, was a boost to independent and distance language learning.

In 2008, mobile apps began appearing. These can run directly on the device, They allow mobile device users to operate online and offline.

How often do we hear language educators say "Aside from being immersed abroad in a language, the classroom is the best place to learn a language. You can't learn a language online"? For the purpose of this research, the issue is not so much the effectiveness of independent online and mobile learning, but rather the extent to which it is and was attempted.

Learner Autonomy Books, Reports and Proceedings: A Comprehensive Bibliography (Warwick: Applied Linguistics) 

There is fast-growing new digital industry centered around language learning, mainly through downloadable mobile apps, frequently either free or with a subscription base. Some link resources for having real conversations with native speakers online. Some are linked into independent language study center sites at American colleges and universities:

List of language self-study programs  (49)

Language-Learning Startups (2011 on 20 companies)

In 2013, the year of the last MLA foreign-language enrollment study, a reasonably successful company called Livemocha (later sold to Rosetta Stone) had 16 million subscribers, according to an article in The Economist:

Language-learning software Review: Babbel and Duolingo (6/14/13)

Morning star shows Rosetta Stone's revenues since 2010 are $1.739 billion

Rosetta Stone Inc  RST (Marningstar)

Duolinguo a popular independent learning site for foreign languages had reached the 100 million accesses mark in July of 2015.

How this language learning app got 110 million users without spending a dollar on marketing

Following its latest injection of funds ($25 million), Duolinguo has been valued at $700 million, according to an article in The Pie News:

Language app Duolingo lands $25m investment

Busuu now has 60 million users worldwide!

Busuu Blog

It is all beginning to add up. We may have more students studying a foreign language in college than we can accurately survey if we count those who have chosen to study on their own. Now autonomous learning is as old as informational resources, but what would motor such a giant step away from the classroom and the presumably adaptive instruction of an observant teacher? Technology is a large part of the answer. Even standard classroom-taught foreign language classes make extensive use of digital technologies, MALL (mobile-assisted language learning), in some cases flipping the classroom, where concepts are introduced digitally. Students are nearly all digital natives, having grown up with computers, iPods, cellphones and smartphones. There is an increase in non-credit and independent-learning foreign-language courses offered by universities, some of them intensive or immersion. The digital component of their learning is already adaptive, sometimes more so than a teacher would make it for the classroom.

Attention given to level-appropriate and comprehensive input for digital audio and video, flashcard-based activities, adaptive digital pedagogy, mobile apps, text-to-speech apps, tandem language learning through communicative formats like Skype (finding partners and coaches through free online services), Face-time, Google+, games, and the availability of both digital and independent standard multi-language assessment tools *(SOPI, COPI, LTI, TELC, STAMP, ACTFL OPI), publisher's high-level completion certificates, as well as language-specific tests (TFI, DELE, JLPT) , have turned the tide for independent foreign language learning by motivated individuals. Non traditional students, raising kids, frequently working full time may well understand the value of learning a foreign language, but they may see its value in real-world results, rather than in grades and credits, and with the right equipment, might be willing to study it on their own if they thought could reach a measurable proficiency to show or demonstrate to an employer. What about students who find the language they were learning in K-12 is not taught at their university, and there are no language requirements for graduation. A student like this may well continue as an independent learner. A number of universities even have centers for independent language learners. Even without this, there is abundant software, like Rosetta Stone and Fluenz.  There are special web sites for the independent learner, like Livemocha, Babbel, BBC Languages, Italki, Pimsleur and Transparent Language. According to to Peter Bol (Harvard) keynote at Foreign Language Education and Technology Conference 2015, There can be little doubt that independent learning is at least a  part of the drop in college foreign-language enrollment noted in the latest MLA survey report.  It should be noted that there is no good way to estimate the number, and that success is a long way from guaranteed in independent learning, as the following study by Katherin B. Nielson indicates:

Nielson, Katherine B. "Self-Study with Language Learning Software in the Workplace. What Happens?" (Language Learning & Technology 15, no. 3, October 2011).

and an investigative article by Holly Young in The Guardian

Young, Holly. "Myth: young people have abandoned language learning (The Guardian 2/11/15)

The latest witness to whole online programs in French comes from

Les Cours en ligne sont-ils l'avenir des départements de français (France-Amérique 16.3.17)

This trend is bound to grow with our digital native students, because it deals with two major problems not adequately addressed by traditional classroom programs: xenoglossophobia (foreign-language anxiety), and the scheduling problems of  non-traditional students. In the meanwhile, our need foreign-language-proficient employees in the workforce will continue to grow. This is likely to be more pronounced with todays non-trad college students than with younger students, because adults seem to be more successful online.

The (ACTFL] Statement on the Role of Technology in Language Learning

reflects a caution shared by most teachers about autonomous technologically-aided learning, You would think the doubt level would be an inhibiting factor, yet there are independent learners who reach fairly high proficiency levels,

and fairly new language-learning mobile app industry has attracted well over a billion dollars in investments, and has hundreds of millions of users worldwide. According to a article recent developments are accelerating the industry: "Transparency Market Research estimates that the global cloud-based language learning market will exhibit a promising 12.8% CAGR (Compound annual growth rate) from 2017 to 2025"

Cloud-based Language Learning Market: Demand From English Language Learning Segment to Remain Key Growth Driver, Says TMR

In spite of the language-teaching profession's claims that students can become more proficient and culturally aware through public classroom learning than in autonymous study, the twenty-first century independent lnguage learning industry provides so many attractive ways to learn, it is bound to continue to reduce classroom numbers.

TennesseeBob Peckham, PhD (AATF Advocacy Commission)

ONLINE Foreign-Language programs and course clusters by state

Looking at another development which keeps students from a physical classroom, the anxiety of a daily public trial, speaking a language they are very unfamiliar with, a daily wrestling match for scheduled time, is institutionally sponsored online foreign-language courses and programs.  Our current decade has seen considerable growth in these according to an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education "A late-2010 report from Eduventures, a consulting company, identified only one fully online bachelor's degree in a foreign language: at National University, based in California."

Marc Perry, "Foreign-Language Instruction, Digitally Speaking" (11/6/11)    

We can see the emergence of whole programs (including B.A., .A.A, M.A., M.Ed., certificate, sequential clusters) online. I have made a list containing at least 150 of these online programs for languages (German, Arabic, French, Spanish, Latin, etc.) offered by US colleges and universities.  Though not visible in this list, there may be over 2000 available individual courses. My list does not include the man universities abroad, offereng full degree programs online.

We note that some colleges and universities, like the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have already moved part of their lower-level curriculum online. All of this has grown since 2009, and now there are over 700 online foreign-language instructor jobs available in the US every day for the 10 most learned languages outside of English.


Auburn University - online Foreign Language Education M.Ed./M.S. French or Spanish (some classroom)

Judson College - online B.A. in Spanish

University of North Alabama - online Speed Spanish Series (3 sequential)



Arizona State University Online - Arizona State University (Spanish BA)

Arizona State University Online - Spanish for the Professions minor and certificate

Coconino Community College - online Spanish [8 courses]

Mesa Community College - 4 lower-level Spanish courses

Rio Salado College - Academic Certificate in Spanish & Spanish Culture


University of Arkansas Online Minor in Spanish


California Virtual Campus - search

Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey - online Translation & Interpretation Professional Programs

Online Foreign Languages Graduate Programs in California

Palo Alto College - online Spanish, A.A.

Palomar College - The Spanish program (9 courses)

University of California - Berkeley - Interpretation and Translation

University of California online - lower-division sequence 4 courses in Spanish

UCLA online - 7 Spanish courses, 3 Latin courses

University of California at San Diego - online Professional Certificate in Translation and Interpretation (Spanish/English)


Arapahoe Community College - online Spanish for professionals (10), basic courses (Dutch, potuguese, german, Mandarin, Spanish, French, Italian)

Colorado Community Colleges - online Spanish (all 4 lower-division courses)

Community College of Aurora - online Associate of Arts Degree in Spanish

Front Range Community College - Associate of Arts in French and Spanish online

National University (Bachelor of Arts in Spanish online)

Red Rocks Community College - online Associate of Arts in (Choose one: French, German, & Spanish)

University of Colorado Boulder - Certificate in Language Teaching with Technology

University of Colorado Denver - Latin online

University of Colorado Denver -  Online Classical Greek

University of Denver - online Graduate Certificate in Translation Studies (Spanish)


Central Connecticut State University-  online Modern Languages M.A. (Spanish, French)



Florida International University (Online BA in Spanish)

Florida International University (Online minor in Spanish)

Nova Southeastern University - online MS in Education - Spanish Language Education

University of Florida - online Master of Arts in Latin

The University of West Florida - online Certificate in Arabic Language and Culture


Armstrong State University - French BA - Online

College of Coastal Georgia - online French & Spanish degrees

Darton State College - online Foreign Language - Spanish major - Associate of Arts

Georgia Perimeter College - online Foreign Language Program (AA)

University of Georgia - online Professional Interpreter in Education Certificate

Valdosta State University - French & Spanish degrees though eMajor,-french-degree-programs-through-emajor.php

Valdosta State University - online Certificate in Spanish for Professionals


University of Hawaii at Hilo - online Indigenous Language and Culture Education M.A.



University of Illinois - online 9 Spanish, 2 Arabic, 3 French, 2 Hindi, 4 Italian, Portuguese, 2 Turkish

Online MA in Translation and Interpretation (Univ. of Illinois Champaign-Urbana)
37 languages


Indiana University (all campuses) - dozens of courses (in French, German and Spanish (all levels)


Des Moines Area Community College - online Interpretation and Translation (several programs)

Iowa Western - online Spanish (7 courses)


Highland Community College - 3 semesters of lower-division Spanish

Neosho County Community College - online Spanish degree


Asbury University (online Master of Arts in Teaching: Spanish P-12)

Boowling Green University - Business Chinese and Japanese online courses for beginners on demand


Louisiana State University - College Credit - Online Distance Learning (German [5] courses, Spanish [4]

Univ. of Louisiana, Monroe - B.A. in Modern Languages, concentration in French

University of New Orleans - Online Master’s Degree in Romance Languages - Spanish or French Option


University of Maine at Augusta - online minor in French


University of Maryland University College - Undergraduate Certificate in Spanish for Business and the Professions [online]


Harvard Extension School (online current offerings, French, through advanced courses)

Springfiield Technical Community College: Medical Interpreting Training Program - Spanish or Portuguese Online (60 hours)

University of Massachusetts-Boston - online Spanish/English Translation Certificate

University of Massachusetts-Boston - online Teaching of Spanish Certificate


Lansing Community College (online Associate in Arts - Spanish)

Marygrove College - minor in French [lower level in class, upper division online (7 courses]

Marygrove College - online M.A. in Modern Language Translation [A.T.A. certification]

Spring Arbor University Online - Secondary Certification (French minor, Spanish major)

University of  Michigan - online subscription base language learning)


Minnesota State Univ. Mankato - online Master of Science in Spanish for the Professions


Holmes Community College (Associate Degree in Spanish)

Univ. of Southern Mississippi - online M.A. in the Teaching of Languages - Spanish

Univ. of Southern Mississippi - online M.A. in the Teaching of Languages - French


Missouri Western Univ. - online FRE 301 Methods Teaching Foreign Lang

St Louis Community College online Spanish degree

Webster University - online certificates in French translation, German, Japanese, Spanish [cultural studies]



Metropolitan Community College Area - online Language Interpretation (LGICE)

University of Nebraska at Kearney - online Master of Arts in Education - Spanish Education


College of Southern Nevada - A.A. International Languages Emphasis

Truckee Meadows Community College - AA in Spanish Emphasis

New Hampshire

New Jersey

Essex County College - online A.A. in Liberal Arts: Spanish Language Option

Gloucester County College online French degree

Rutgers University - online Spanish Master of Arts for Teachers program

Rutgers University of New Jersey - Italian for Reading Knowledge Online Certificate Program

New Mexico

Eastern new Mexico Univ. AA in Modern Languages (Spanish Concentration) (2015-16) to a BA in Span

New Mexico State University - online (M.A. in Spanish - Linguistics, M.A. in Spanish - Linguistics)

Santa Fe College - online Spanish, A.A.

New York

Mercy College - online BA in Spanish  [Dobbs Ferry & Online]

MS in Translation New York University (online)

NYU School of Professional Studies - online MS in Translation

SUNY Empire State College - online 5 semesters of lower-division Spanish

Open SUNY - 331 FL courses

North Carolina

Appalachian State University - onlineMaster of Arts Degree in Romance Languages, French or Spanish Teaching

East Carolina University - Foreign Languages & Literatures Distance Education [multiple languages & levels]

Randolph Community College - online Speed Spanish series (I, II, III)

UNC Language Exchange - online (56 courses, variety of levels and languages)

University of North Carolina at Greensboro - online German minor

North Dakota

University of North Dakota - online Spanish for the Workplace (8 courses)


The Ohio State University - online Sp.1103, 2202 (soon Sp. 1102,1155) Port 1101, 1102, or 1103


Mid-America Christian University - online Maestría de Artes - Liderazgo


Linfield College - online Spanish Healthcare Interpreter Training

Oregon State University - B.A. in French – Online

Oregon State University - B.A. in German – Online

Oregon State University - B.A. in Spanish – Online

Oregon State University (online Italian: 6 courses)


California University of Pennsylvania - online B.A. in Arabic Language and Culture.

California University of Pennsylvania - online certificate in Arabic Language and Culture.

California University of Pennsylvania- online Spanish: Minor Curriculum

California University of Pennsylvania - online Spanish for Business Certificate

California University of Pennsylvania - online Spanish for Law Enforcement Certificate

Reading Area Community College - online Command Spanish Language Training (17 courses)

Rhode Island

South Carolina

Midlands Technical College - Online French (3 courses), Spanish (9 courses), Italian)

South Dakota

South Dakota State University - online Spanish minor


Pellissippi Community College - online A.A. International Affairs (2 sem. of Spanish)

Southwest Tennessee Community College - online Speed Spanish I, II, III, Spanish for Medical Professionals, Spanish in the Classroom

Southwest Tennessee Community College - online Spanish for Medical Professionals,

Southwest Tennessee Community College - online Spanish for Medical Professionals II

Southwest Tennessee Community College - online Spanish for Law Enforcement

Southwest Tennessee Community College - online Spanish in the Classroom


Amarillo College, Continuing Education - online Spanish (lultiple levels) + other languages

Austin Community College - online Spanish

Eastfield College - online A.A. in Teaching Leading to Initial Texas Teacher Certification in Foreign Language, EC-12

South Texas College - online Language & Cultural Studies - Spanish Concentration

St Philip's College - online A.A. in Spanish
Texas A&M University - online Master's in Spanish (8 courses)

Texas Southmost College - online A.A. in Spanish Translation

University of Houston-Victoria - online . . .

  EC-12 Spanish - VOICE (Victoria Online Initial Certification for Educators)
  Spanish 7-12 - VOICE (Victoria Online Initial Certification for Educators)

The University of Texas - Rio Grande Valley [online]

  M.A. in Spanish Translation and Interpreting
  MBA (Spanish)
  Graduate Certificate in Advanced Placement Spanish Literature
  Graduate Certificate in Spanish Translation

University of Tezas at Austin - Paralegal Certificate Program – Online Spanish

University of Tezas at Austin - online certificate in Spanish on covering organized crime (IAPA)

University of Texas System - online Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing-Bilingual


BYU Independent Study online  university courses (Fr., Sp., Gr., Asian & Near Eastern)|high-school=false|middle-school=false|continuing-education=false|ig=on|online=on|paper=false

Utah State University - On-Line Spanish Minor

Weber State University - Foreign Languages Online Methods Course



Available to all VA community colleges - Spanish
Spanish (SPA) at Tidewater Community College - online 6 courses, some professional

Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College - online Spanish (5 courses), Italian, French, Japanese (1 course)

Virginia Polytechnic Institute - online M.A. Foreign Languages, Cultures & Literatures (French or Spanish)


Central Washington Univwrsity - online Japanese [lower division]

Edmonds Community College - [11 different languages]

Lower Columbia College - online 1st and 2nd year Spanish

University of Washington - online Professional Masters in Computational Linguistics

University of Washington Tacoma - Independent online learning: French, Spanish, German (1st 3 courses)


Edgewood College (WI) - online Dual Language Immersion Institutional Certificate

Fox Valley Technical College (1st, 2nd yrs + advanced conversation, etc.) 12 lang.

Marquette University - mostly online hybrid Spanish for the professions and Spanish language and literature

University of Wisconsin - Madison - 9 courses online 32 hours (9 French, 2 Italian)

University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee - online MA in Translation

  MA in Translation - English to Spanish
  MA in Translation - Spanish to English
  Graduate Certificate in Translation - English to Spanish
  Graduate Certificate in Translation - Spanish to English
  Master of Library and Information Science/MA in Translation - English to Spanish - Dual Degree
  Master of Library and Information Science/MA in Translation - Spanish to English - Dual Degree


These two, independent learning and online course work are, together, the big leak in the bucket, a leak which will not likely be pacthed exactly the way we want it, no matter what measures we are willing to take. The real difficulty may well be the unpredictability of how many people will be trained each year to named levals of proficiency. It would not be inaccurate to say that even those who reach high levels of proficiency from the addition of foreign immersion experiences, will lack the finesse of fully grasping the integration of cultural factiors into communication, which are offered to those who learn in the classroom. Noe the following Newsweek article from 2015, the year when the MLA Report was released:

Jordan Friedman, "Study a Foreign Language Online" (2/11/15)    

TennesseeBob Peckham, PhD
Director, Globe-Gate Research
University of Tennessee at Martin