Education

About 200 high school students will gather Saturday at the University of Kentucky for the annual World Language Showcase. They will display their knowledge of Japanese, Spanish, French, and other tongues.

These young linguaphiles may eventually become college students who continue to study languages. In 2013, Kentucky had a little more than 20,000 enrollments in language at higher ed institutions, according to the Modern Language Association of America.

Jeanmarie Rouhier-Willoughby is a professor of Russian and the chair of the Department of Modern and Classical Languages, Literatures and Cultures at UK. She says for art lovers, Italian is your language. For science and philosophy students, she recommends German. But whatever language you study, Rouhier-Willoughby says, should complement your professional goals.

“I always tell people it doesn’t really matter what language you choose,” she says. “If you’re learning a language it needs to mesh with ultimately what you want to do.”

She says there’s very little downside to learning a language.

“You can cite anything from professional security, personal development and academic skills as reasons to do it,” she says.

Spanish has the highest enrollment at UK, the same goes for colleges and universities nationwide.

But Rouhier-Willoughby has seen an uptick in students taking Russian courses. And it has everything to do with politics.

The interest in Russian language courses was strong during the Cold War and again in the early 1990s with the fall of the Soviet Union, and many wanted to do business in Russia, she says.

“As there are fraught political relations, you might say, that the interest does go up,” Rouhier-Willoughby says. “So there has indeed been a trend across the country of increased enrollment in Russian as a result of what’s been going on politically.”

Whether you’re a high schooler heading to the World Language Showcase or an adult who has a new found passion for a culture, Willoughby says — ultimately — learning a new language is a labor of love.

“It feeds your soul in a way that is worth pursuing if you love it,” she says. “And you can’t worry about whether you’re perfect. But you can feel connected in a way to a world that only language can do for you.”

More information about the 2017 World Language Showcase can be found here.

Roxanne Scott covers the economy for WFPL News.