US postsecondary enrollments in Chinese trending down

Recent years have been difficult for postsecondary foreign language programs in the United States, with enrollments down 16.6% overall between fall 2016 and fall 2021. Anecdotal evidence points to even steeper declines since then.

This post provides a look at the some of the numbers from the most recent report by the Modern Language Association, focusing especially on the case of Chinese/Mandarin, with some other languages (esp. Japanese) tossed in by way of comparison.

Among the fifteen most commonly taught languages other than English, only three — Korean, American Sign Language, and Biblical Hebrew — showed gains, at 38.3%, 9.1%, and 0.8%, respectively.

Thus, Mandarin and Japanese are among those in decline. Although in total enrollments Mandarin is now ahead of Italian, and Japanese has moved ahead of German, that’s simply because those two Asian languages didn’t fall as far as those two European ones.

Enrollments in Chinese, Italian, Arabic, Latin, and Korean

bar graph showing recent downward trends for these languages, other than Korean, which has continued to increase strongly
(source: MLA report)

From the MLA report:

Chinese/Mandarin enrollments … showed steep declines…. Chinese/Mandarin enrollments fell 14.3% overall and 23.9% at two-year schools, 12.5% at four-year schools, and 29.5% at the graduate level…. Chinese/Mandarin enrollments have been dropping at two-year institutions since 2009, and at four-year institutions since 2013. Graduate enrollments in Chinese/Mandarin have remained fairly steady for the last twenty years; the drop from 2016 to 2021, from 1,266 to 892, is the first time graduate enrollments in Chinese/Mandarin have fallen below 1,000 since 2002.

From the five uses of “Chinese/Mandarin” in the previous paragraph, longtime readers of Pinyin News will note that the MLA acted upon my earlier recommendation to aggregate those two terms rather than treat them separately. But don’t worry: the MLA report doesn’t give the wordy “Chinese/Mandarin” every time in its report. (Although in general use I prefer “Mandarin,” in this post I often use “Chinese” simply to aid people making Google searches.)

Now for some graphs and tables, some directly from the MLA report, others I made using the MLA’s data.

US postsecondary enrollments in Chinese and Japanese, 1958–2021

x

Chinese and Japanese enrollments in two-year colleges, 1974–2016

x

Chinese and Japanese enrollments in four-year universities, 1974–2016

x

Graduate course enrollments over time (emphasis for Chinese and Japanese added)

x

In one encouraging sign for Mandarin, it had a 3:1 ratio of introductory to advanced undergraduate enrollments, making it one of just five languages that had a 4:1 or better ratio, along with Biblical Hebrew (2:1), Portuguese (3:1), Russian (3:1), and German (4:1). This is important because on average it takes more time for native speakers of English to reach the same level in Mandarin than they might achieve in, say, two years of French.

Also, although the number of enrollments is down for Mandarin, that language beat the reduction trend by having a slight increase in the number of institutions offering it at the graduate level: 54 in 2021, up from 52 in 2009. On the other hand, Chinese enrollments overall were reported by 105 fewer institutions in the survey.

As this table from the MLA report shows, Mandarin programs around the United States have been decreasing, stable, or increasing at about the same rates as programs for other foreign languages — which is to say, mainly decreasing. Japanese, however, is continuing to do well given the recent environment.

Table showing that 61.2% of Mandarin programs were decreasing in 2021, compared with 48.8% of Japanese programs.

The figures are about the same for introductory programs, so I won’t bother to reproduce that table (12b).

sources:

Further reading:

US doctorates in Chinese and Japanese over time

US Doctorates in Chinese and Japanese, 1983-2014

As you can see, in most years more doctorates were awarded in Chinese than in Japanese. The total doctorates over the covered period are 666 for Chinese and 471 for Japanese. By way of comparison, during the same period 870 doctorates were awarded in the United States in Italian.

Interestingly, undergraduate enrollments are typically higher in Japanese than in Mandarin, the reverse of the situation with doctorates.

Although the most recent report on this was issued way back in 2016, recent trends in foreign language enrollments in U.S. postsecondary institutions (to be detailed in a later post) show a steep decline that may well be reflected in the number of people earning doctorates in Mandarin and Japanese in U.S. universities.

source: Report on the Survey of Earned Doctorates, 2013–14, MLA Office of Research, December 2016

further reading:

OEC is D-licious

Recently, on my way to Wulai (just south of Taipei), I spotted an interesting sign. Normally, the combination of “interesting sign” and “Wulai” means something in a language of one of Taiwan’s Indigenous Peoples. But for today I have something different: Japanese, Taiwanese, and Mandarin. Plus another bonus sign in Japanese (I think) — but more on that later.

I wasn’t able to get a good photo of my own, so here’s one from Google Street View.

Sign labeled 'OEC', plus another store's sign reading '一豆'

The “OEC” on the sign on the left is meant to represent Japanese “oishī” (美味しい / おいしい), which means “delicious.” Knowledge of some Japanese words is very common in Taiwan, much as knowing a few words in Spanish is common in parts of the USA.

The whole top line is “OEC 手工麵線” (OEC shǒugōng miànxiàn) = “delicious handmade noodles.” The letters on the sign work like the hyphenated combinations in William Steig’s charming C D B.

The line below the sign’s headline is also linguistically interesting.

大腸, 蚵仔, 肉羹
(intestines, oysters, meat soup)

The second word, 蚵仔, would be pronounced kezi in Mandarin. But in Taiwan it’s standard for that to be read in Taiwanese as “ô-á.” Also notable is the use of handwriting — rather rare these days — instead of a computerized font.

The brunch shop next door also has what I strongly suspect is an interesting sign: 一豆, which in Mandarin is yi dou (lit. “one bean”). Someone who knows Japanese help me out with this one.

Japan likely to regulate pronunciations of personal names

“No, no, no. It’s spelled ‘Raymond Luxury Yacht,’ but it’s pronounced ‘Throatwobbler Mangrove.’” — Monty Python’s Flying Circus

On February 17, Japan’s Legislative Council presented the country’s justice minister with an outline that would mandate that any kanji in names of newborns entered in official family registers include phonetic readings in kana. It would also restrict some readings.

Readings would also be added to names already in registers.

The changes would likely be enforced starting in the 2024 fiscal year (April 1, 2024, to March 31, 2025).

From a news article:

Currently, family registers do not have a field to indicate phonetic readings. After the law revision, family registers will include phonetic readings of kanji in kana characters.

According to the outlines, certain restrictions will be set on “colorful names” whose phonetic readings in kana characters deviate from the original meanings of the kanji characters.

Not only will newborn babies have pronunciations of their names entered in their family registers, but children and adults whose names already appear in family registers will be allowed to add phonetic readings.

Such people will be allowed to register different readings from ones already in their resident registers — records that are distinct from family registers — but the Justice Ministry calls for careful consideration when registering name readings in family registers.

The government plans to submit the revision bill during the current ordinary Diet session, aiming for it to be enforced in fiscal 2024.

The outlines say that “phonetic readings generally accepted as names” will be allowed in family registers.

A supplementary document to the outlines also calls for flexible management of the new system, given the historical and cultural reality that there have been some phonetic readings that are used only for names.

However, the government plans not to accept phonetic readings of names “that would confuse society.”

Examples of this restriction include readings with a meaning opposite to the kanji’s meaning, those that are difficult to distinguish from misreadings or misspellings, and those with no relation to the meaning of the kanji….

Discriminatory and obscene phonetic readings of names will not be accepted. Nor will names of characters from comics, anime and other fictitious works that would cause discomfort if used as the names of real people.

As current family registers do not have a section to indicate phonetic readings of names, people listed in Japanese family registers do not officially have phonetic reading of names under the Family Register Law.

In contrast, phonetic readings are written on resident registers. However, according to the ministry, those phonetics readings are not legally official but exist for administrative convenience. Currently, phonetic readings on birth registrations are used for resident registration purposes, but not for family registers.

After the law revision goes into force, kana characters for phonetic readings in birth registrations of newborns will also be used in family registers. Those who already have family registers can submit phonetic reading of their names to municipalities within one year after the revised law goes into force.

In particular, people with concerns such as the frequent mispronunciation of their names by others may find it necessary to have their resident registers revised to include the desired phonetic readings of their names. However, as changing the submitted names will require permission from a family court, the ministry urges careful consideration in deciding the name readings to be submitted.

For those who do not submit phonetic readings of names within one year after the enforcement of the revision, the official phonetic reading will be decided based on readings indicated in resident registers after municipal mayors send notifications to their respective residents.

I’m still wondering about the “cause discomfort” part. Discomfort to whom? How?

Japan to add romanization to names on My Number cards

The Japanese government has reportedly decided to add romanization for names on My Number cards, starting next year (2024). My Number cards — also known as Individual Number cards (or kojin bangō kādo / 個人番号カード) are a form of national ID.

Here’s basically what they look like now (without a space for romanization):
blank My Number card

But I haven’t been able to find any more specific information yet.

I wrote the authorities with My Number cards for clarification. I wanted to know what romanization system My Number Cards will use: Hepburn, Kunrei-shiki, or something else? Or will people be able to choose any system they want or to choose from a list of government-approved systems?

I also requested links to any articles/announcements about this in English or Japanese.

Unfortunately, the person who politely responded did not have any information about this beyond what I submitted.

Source: one small mention at the end of this article: Pronunciation of Japanese Personal Names to be Regulated by Planned Law Revision, Japan News (from the Yomiuri Shimbun), February 18, 2023.

More Americans studying in Japan

The number of U.S. students studying abroad in Japan is continuing to increase, having recovered from a sharp decline in the 2010–20111 school year.

This is in contrast to the situation in China, which has been seeing fewer and fewer U.S. students.

graph showing a steady increase in U.S. students studying in Japan from 2000, with a 33% decline in 2010, followed by a recovery that now surpasses the 2009 level.

I’m not sure what accounts for the sharp drop in 2010–2011. It occurred before the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

source: IEE Open Doors Study Abroad Destinations

Languages, scripts, and signs: a walk around Taipei’s Shixin University

Recently I took some trails through the mountains in Taipei and ended up at Shih Hsin University (Shìxīn Dàxué / 世新大學). Near the school are some interesting signs. Rather than giving individual posts for each of these, I’m keeping the signs together in this one, as this is better testimony to the increasing and often playful diversity of languages and scripts in Taiwan.

Cǎo Chuàn

Here’s a restaurant whose name is given in Pinyin with tone marks! That’s quite a rarity here, though I suspect we’ll be seeing more of this in the future. The name in Chinese characters (草串) can be found, much smaller, on a separate sign below.

cao_chuan

二哥の牛肉麵

Right by Cao Chuan is Èrgē de Niúròumiàn (Second Brother’s Beef Noodle Soup). Note the use of the Japanese の rather than Mandarin’s 的; this is quite common in Taiwan.

erge_de_niuroumian

芭樂ㄟ店

This store has an ㄟ, which serves as a marker of the Taiwanese language. Here, ㄟ is the equivalent of 的 — and of の.

Bālè ei diàn
bala_ei_dian

A’Woo Tea Bar

awoo_tea_bar

I couldn’t find a name in Chinese characters for this place. The name is probably onomatopoeia, as in “Werewolves of London — awoo!”

UTF-8 Unicode vs. other encodings over time

Some eight years ago UTF-8 (Unicode) became the most used encoding on Web pages. At the time, though, it was used on only about 26% of Web pages, so it had a plurality but not an absolute majority.

Graph showing growth of the UTF-8 encoding

By the beginning of 2010 Unicode was rapidly approaching use on half of Web pages.
graph showing a steep rise in the use of UTF-8 and a steep decline in other major encodings

In 2012 the trends were holding up.
UTF-8_website_use_2001-2012

Note that the 2008 crossover point appears different in the latter two Google graphs, which is why I’m showing all three graphs rather than just the third.

A different source (with slightly different figures) provides us with a look at the situation up to the present, with UTF-8 now on 85% of Web pages. Expansion of UTF-8 is slowing somewhat. But that may be due largely to the continuing presence of older websites in non-Unicode encodings rather than lots of new sites going up in encodings other than UTF-8.
growth in Unicode UTF-8 encoding on Web pages, 2010-2015

Here’s the same chart, but focusing on encodings (other than UTF-8) that use Chinese characters, so the percentages are relatively low.
asian_language_encodings_2010-2015

And here’s the same as the above, but with the results for individual languages combined.
asian_language_encodings_2010-2015_by_language

By the way, Pinyin.info has been in UTF-8 since the site began way back in 2001. The reason that Chinese characters and Pinyin with tone marks appear scrambled within Pinyin News is that a hack caused the WordPress database to be set to Swedish (latin1_swedish_ci), of all things. And I haven’t been able to get it fixed; so just for the time being I’ve given up trying. One of these days….

Sources: