Answer: 20 Percent
According to a 2017 report from the non-profit, American Councils for International Education, only 20% of K-12 students are enrolled in foreign languages classes in the United States. This includes all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
State by state the level of participation varies. A Pew Research report said “New Jersey (51%) has the most students studying a language, followed by the District of Columbia (47%) and Wisconsin (36%). However, the vast majority of states have less than 25% participation, with only 9% of students studying a foreign language in New Mexico, Arizona and Arkansas.”
It doesn’t come as a surprise that Spanish is the most popular language studied. Chinese and Sign Language, however, are also being taught in American schools.
This report starts to get more interesting when comparing American schools to their European counterparts where, in some countries, it’s mandated that children learn other languages.
Again, according to the Pew Research Center, “92% of European students are learning a language in school. Of the 29 European nations for which data are available, 24 have a foreign language learning rate of at least 80%, with 15 of those reaching 90% or more of students enrolled in language courses. In three of the four countries with the smallest student populations – Luxembourg, Malta, and Liechtenstein – 100% of students are reported to be learning a foreign language.”
The crux of the matter is that when Americans travel from state to state, English is used if they’re taking a Road trip from Maine, through New Hampshire, and into Massachusetts. Meanwhile, if you drive from Portugal, through Spain, and into France, you’ll run into three different national languages, and even a regional one if you travel through the Basque country.