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Most Commonly-Taught Languages in the U.S.

Name the languages, other than English, that are the most commonly taught in American universities and grade schools (K-12).
Quiz by Macaco
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Last updated: July 9, 2019
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First submittedJuly 20, 2014
Times taken53,330
Average score71.4%
Rating4.35
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%
University
50.2
Spanish
12.4
French
7.6
American Sign Language
5.7
German
4.9
Japanese
4.0
Italian
3.7
Chinese
2.2
Arabic
1.8
Latin
1.4
Russian
0.9
Ancient Greek
0.7
Portuguese
0.7
Biblical Hebrew
0.4
Modern Hebrew
%
K-12
72.1
Spanish
14.1
French
4.4
German
2.3
Latin
0.82
Japanese
0.73
Italian
0.67
Chinese
0.46
American Sign Language
0.14
Russian
74 Comments
+16
Level 76
Aug 16, 2017
I racked my brain to think of major immigrant groups.. forgot european jews!
+64
Level 73
Jul 9, 2019
Not sure how ASL qualifies as a "foreign" language, given the presence of the word "American" in its name.
+13
Level ∞
Jul 9, 2019
Fixed
+2
Level 74
Jul 9, 2019
Awesome, thank you.
+10
Level 86
Jul 10, 2019
Now go edit the source Wikipedia page to remove the word "foreign" from the title ;)
+4
Level 73
Jul 10, 2019
missed sign language, both versions of hebrew and ancient greek
+8
Level 74
Jul 10, 2019
American Sign Language hahahahahahahahaha^^ hilarious^^ [not meant as an insult to deaf people just funny to see it next to spoken languages]
+17
Level 82
Jul 10, 2019
why?
+20
Level 82
Jul 10, 2019
Are you one of those people who thinks that sign languages are just regular languages adapted to finger spelling?
+19
Level 77
Jul 10, 2019
I think it is great to be included just to remind people in general that you don't have to be able to hear and speak to have a language. I also didn't think of sign language at all.
+3
Level 82
Jul 10, 2019
I took Spanish in both high school and at university. I signed up for Japanese in high school but the class was cancelled due to lack of interest.
+4
Level 68
Aug 5, 2019
Aw. Japanese was my daughter's favourite subject at high school.
+6
Level 57
Aug 5, 2019
wish my school had offered that
+7
Level 70
Jul 10, 2019
We had three options: Spanish, French or German
+8
Level 68
Aug 5, 2019
In my local high school in New Zealand it's Maori, Chinese, Japanese, and German. Other schools here might offer French or Spanish, or occasionally Latin, Korean or Samoan.
+3
Level 66
Aug 5, 2019
We had Spanish, French, and Latin
+2
Level 66
Aug 27, 2020
My school has French, German, Italian, Chinese, Latin, Ancient Greek and Sanskrit.
+2
Level 67
Jan 27, 2023
We had Spanish, French and ASL
+3
Level 56
Feb 11, 2023
Latin, French, Spanish and/or German were assigned for the first two years and optional after that. Of all the things I’ve learned and forgotten I think I regret Latin most
+1
Level 56
Feb 15, 2023
My school doesn't have any...
+1
Level 57
Aug 8, 2023
We have Spanish, French and mandatory Irish.
+2
Level 94
Jul 11, 2019
Students at my school had to learn Indonesian.
+1
Level 47
Jul 11, 2019
To be exact Bahasa Indonesian, but they got the language and change it slightly from Bahasa Malay
+2
Level 73
Jul 11, 2019
Are they really that similar? I studied Bahasa Indonesia but when I visited Malaysia I had a hard time understanding anybody.
+1
Level 83
Jul 12, 2019
It's generally thought to be one language. But I don't know enough to say myself how close they actually are.
+2
Level 58
Jul 11, 2019
Fifteen to twenty years ago, my Chinese teachers would brag about how common it was to study Chinese in the USA. I tried to explain to my fellow students (generally Japanese or Korean) that that was actually not true, but nobody believed me.
+1
Level 69
Feb 13, 2023
Yeah, I never met anyone who studied Chinese in the USA
+5
Level 76
Jul 12, 2019
One of these is not like the rest.
+6
Level 69
Jul 13, 2019
Wait, lemme guess – you’re talking about Russian because it’s the only Slavic language on the list, right? Because surely you didn’t mean to point out any other of these full and rich languages with a disparaging quip.
+1
Level 56
Feb 15, 2023
No, it''s because Russian is a communist language. Dang commies.
+3
Level 79
Aug 5, 2019
Hmm... let me guess which one you're referring to...
+5
Level 56
Aug 5, 2019
It's strange how Latin is studied more in grade school than in university. Considering that biologists, doctors and historians all need Latin to some extent, I was expecting to see it higher at universities.
+7
Level 82
Aug 5, 2019
Many religious schools require all their students to take Latin. Catholic schools in particular, but I know people who went to Evangelical schools who had to do it as well.
+3
Level 61
Aug 5, 2019
It was pretty obvious once the answers came up, but there was no way I was getting ASL.
+1
Level 82
Aug 5, 2019
In the years I spent traveling around Europe I decided that the most useful languages to know for doing the same are:

1. Russian

2. Italian

3. Spanish

4. German

5. Serbian

6. Polish

7. French

8. Romanian

9. Greek

10. Swedish

+1
Level 82
Aug 5, 2019
Turkish might be more valuable than Swedish. And possibly Ukrainian. This is assuming that you already speak English.
+2
Level 67
Aug 5, 2019
When you say "useful," do you mean that you need to know these languages more than others because they are most prevalent where people don't speak English? I guess what I mean is that I read this to say that Russian is most useful because it prevails in lots of places where people don't speak English but Dutch and Finnish are less useful because most people in those countries speak English. Is that more or less correct?
+3
Level 82
Aug 5, 2019
yes exactly. There are very large numbers of people in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and other East European countries who do not speak English but who speak Russian. There are also a lot of people in Italy, Romania, etc who speak Italian but not English, and many people in Spain who do not speak English. German will help you out in several countries even though the majority of people in Germany also speak some English. Serbian will be of use in the Balkans. I was also considering what Natascha posted below: if you know some Russian you will be able to at least read Cyrillic and discern meaning from many Slavic languages. If you know Italian or Spanish or French you can make sense of a lot of written Portuguese, Romanian, and so on.

But, yes, the main reason I ranked Russian #1 is that there are many very large very populous countries with a lot of people who understand Russian but not English.

+1
Level 82
Aug 5, 2019
I was also thinking about second languages. Like, many Germans speak English... but there are a lot of people in Poland who don't speak English but who do speak German.
+1
Level 80
Apr 13, 2021
I agree with what you say here, and add that French is very useful if you enter the former French and Belgian colonies of West Africa (lots of these), and the other parts of the world where the French Empire reached, such as some islands in the Caribbean, the islands off East Africa, some parts of Canada, and of course France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland.
+3
Level 52
Aug 5, 2019
If you speak one Romanic language, you can easily read others. I speak fluent French, so understanding Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and even Romanian is relatively easy. You can do with one of 2, 3,7,8

If you speak one Slavic language, others are relatively easy. Slovak, Ukrainian, Polish, Czech are pretty similar. My Slovakian and Polish colleagues at work can talk to each other in their own language and the other person will understand, same with Slovak and Czech.

+1
Level 57
Aug 5, 2019
I had never considered learning Slovak before, but if it could open the door to both Polish speakers and Czech speakers as well as Slovak speakers themselves, then it's definitely next on my list
+1
Level 45
Aug 5, 2019
I know a decent amount of Spanish, and because of it i can read portugese and italian
+1
Level 82
Aug 9, 2019
I know enough Spanish to have a conversation with a 5 year old in addition to having some very very rudimentary knowledge of Latin, Greek, French, German and Polish and the ability to sound out words written in Russian Cyrillic. All of the above made it possible to puzzle out the meanings of signs, restaurant menus, and even newspapers in virtually every country in Europe. There are many similarities between all of these languages.
+1
Level 59
Feb 11, 2023
Idk how Latin helped you with street signs but it’s still pretty cool
+4
Level 65
Aug 5, 2019
Knowing Russian (or any other Slavic language, but especially Russian) makes it easy to get around any Slavic country, as a lot of basic words are similar, and most former communist countries have tons of older people who learned Russian in school.
+4
Level 78
Aug 5, 2019
I feel like more schools should be offering Chinese at this point. It's probably the most useful foreign language for Americans at this point, other than maybe Spanish.
+3
Level 45
Aug 5, 2019
spanish is still far and away the most useful for the US in general, and it also allows you to somewhat be able to understand italian, portugese, and french.
+3
Level 82
Aug 5, 2019
Depends a lot on what career field you want to go into and where you live or wish to live. If you want to be a teacher, social worker, politician, or manage a construction company in Texas, Spanish would be extremely valuable. If you want to be an engineer you're better off studying Japanese, Chinese, or German.
+1
Level 56
Feb 15, 2023
I have not ever heard someone speak any form of Chinese here.
+4
Level 43
Aug 5, 2019
What about the languages that are actually learnt? Because I'm from Spain and every time I meet an American they seem to only know how to say piñata and count til cuatro. Makes me wonder about the quality of their education system.
+7
Level 32
Aug 5, 2019
The world lingua franca is generally English and Americans almost have a mindset like the US is the only country that exists. There is really no cultural pressure for people to learn other languages and for schools to actually try to make people fluent in them. You won't learn a language with the conventional American school system.
+2
Level 67
Aug 6, 2019
Most Americans I know are at least conversational in a second language, but I also went to very good schools and have a white-collar career, so my experience is probably not the norm. I echo alejour's sentiment in part: learning a second language is not as pressing for Americans as it is for people in other parts of the world because English is the most common language across the world (I don't mean by sheer number of speakers. I mean that you can find it everywhere). If you're an American tourist in any major global city, you can find English speakers. If you're a Swede who only speaks Swedish, you are unlikely to find your language outside your country, which is a big problem. In my experience, Americans are much better at second languages than the English or Australians though.
+2
Level 82
Aug 7, 2019
There are millions of Americans who are very fluent in Spanish. There are also millions of Americans who took it for three years in high school because they had to, crammed the night before for every test, and promptly forgot everything they had learned the following year if not the following week, because if you only speak English you can get by perfectly fine and there's nothing ignorant or chauvunistic about that statement it's just factual if you live in the United States.
+2
Level 89
Oct 19, 2022
Why do Europeans always forget they live in an area smaller than the United States and are fractured by scores of languages whereas the larger U.S. functions on one?
+3
Level 66
Feb 11, 2023
Stop! Europe is not smaller than the USA!

Also it's a bit sad to see Americans being dismissive of other languages here. You wouldn't like to go to Mexico and speak Spanish? Or even visit Europe or Asia and be able to mingle somewhat.

+1
Level 59
Feb 11, 2023
Also consider the fact that the percentages are just how many schools offer the course, and not how many students actually take it. Plus, schools which require x years of a language to graduate often have multiple options. (Also like the garbage American school system but we can just brush that under the rug fs)
+1
Level 60
Nov 29, 2019
Is the fact that the College Board offers AP courses for all but the last two languages in K-12 a reason for their prevalence? Especially for Japanese and Latin?
+2
Level 56
Jul 23, 2020
I dont know why anyone would want to learn Ancient Greek out of all languages.
+8
Level 83
Nov 7, 2021
rich linguistic and cultural history? learning alongside latin to be able to study classics? just for the fun of it?
+2
Level 58
Feb 13, 2023
I learned Ancient Greek (Attic and Homeric) as a part of my degrees in archaeology and classics, but I also really enjoyed it and met plenty of people who were there for the fun of it! That said, in my experience as both a student and a teacher, most people in the courses were there because it's a biblical language (Koine).
+2
Level 69
Feb 13, 2023
Ancient Greek and Biblical Hebrew are requirements for Presbyterian ministers, and even if not a requirement, many clergy learn ancient Greek so they can read the oldest known texts of the New Testament without the translation in the way.
+5
Level 84
Jul 17, 2021
I guess 3 years of semaphore in high school really wasn't the best choice.
+2
Level 78
Sep 2, 2022
Greek? We don't do that here. Ancient Greek? Step right up.
+1
Level 59
Feb 11, 2023
Nobody Speaks ASL

It is tought tho

+1
Level 59
Feb 11, 2023
ASL completely went over my head. Never would have guessed it.
+1
Level 68
Feb 11, 2023
Got ASL without issue, but missed Hebrew.
+2
Level 70
Feb 11, 2023
Does Morse Code count? You could learn it for extra credit in my history class last year.
+1
Level 46
Feb 11, 2023
got them all except ASL xd
+2
Level 70
Feb 11, 2023
Got them all, but for a while after I got all the high school ones I kept thinking of university linguistics courses and just assumed native american languages would fill in the rest. I'm sad I'm wrong.
+1
Level 59
Feb 15, 2023
my school had Spanish, French, and Chinese. Surprised Chinese is so rare for the world's most spoken language.
+1
Level 53
Feb 19, 2023
Greek doesn't count for ancient greek?
+1
Level 54
Mar 30, 2023
it does
+1
Level 54
Mar 30, 2023
only forgot ASL :(