Immigration, international economic trends, the end of the cold war and the advent of the internet are causing university and college students in the United States to move away from most European languages in favour of Spanish and Chinese.
A wave of Hispanic immigration has translated into a 14 per cent increase in the study of Spanish at US universities and colleges.
French is second in popularity but the number of students studying it has fallen by nearly 25 per cent.
The number taking German is down by 28 per cent, Italian by 12 per cent and Russian by 45 per cent. But the number of students who take Chinese has risen 36 per cent, Arabic 28 per cent and Portuguese 5 per cent. Study of Korean, Hindi and some African languages also is up, the Modern Language Association reports.
The trend is causing chaos for colleges' staffing and has a knock-on effect on the jobs market.
The language shift has intensified complaints that US colleges and universities are becoming more vocational and less academic. Critics contend that students are opting for those languages that will improve their job prospects.
Hispanics are projected to become the largest minority group by 2008, and the number of primary schools that offer Spanish classes has increased from 68 per cent to 79 per cent in the past ten years, according to the Center for Applied Linguistics.
Other changes are also influencing college study. In the past decade, the number of primary schools offering French has dropped from 41 per cent to per cent, offering German from 10 per cent to 5 per cent and Latin from 12 per cent to 3 per cent.
The most immediate impact has been on PhD recipients in language. Only 8 per cent of last year's PhD recipients got full-time, tenure-track teaching posts.
Sixty-eight per cent of introductory language sections for college and university students are being taught by graduate students, 7 per cent by part-time staff and only 15 per cent by full-timers.
12 international newsThe Times HigherJjanuary 22 1999 Turned down: philosopher Jean-Christophe Merle was offered a job but immigration officials refused a work permit