New Jersey has a the highest number of K-12 students learning a foreign language in school, according to a report by The American Councils for International Education.

Its report says 51 percent of New Jersey students are enrolled in foreign-language classes compared to 20 percent nationwide

Marty Abbott, executive director of The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, said one reason is the state requirement for high school graduation of at least one year of study. Around the country, there are only 16 states that have a hard-and-fast requirement for all students to learn another language.

Another reason: A dynamic demographic profile in New Jersey. Abbott said students who already speak another language at home are more inclined, as they're learning English, to study another language.

She said that 15 years ago, New Jersey actually offered encouragement to make sure schools were offering language at the elementary level, even though there was no funding for it.

In 2016. New Jersey became the 15th state to implement the Seal of Biliteracy — where students demonstrate that they are able to speak, read, listen and write in two or more languages at a high level of proficiency. Abbott said that adoption has had an impact on students who continue to learn a language in school rather than stopping at the one-year requirement.

Still, New Jersey and the United States still lag countries  across the Atlantic Ocean. About 92 percent of students in Europe learn a foreign language in school.

"As we look across career sectors in this country, we can't find a single sector that isn't saying that they have a demand for bi-lingual employees," Abbott said.

So she says businesses are stepping up to the plate, saying they need bi-lingual workers. Abbott said as we look at the future, she hopes the statistic will change so the United States looks more like Europe.

She said the most popular foreign language for New Jersey students to learn is Spanish, with more than 70 percent of students enrolled in those classes.

"People like to learn a language that they feel is practical and usable and I think people see an immediate use for Spanish," Abbott said. But she says there's also a growing trend in learning Mandarin Chinese. French, German and Latin are still very viable languages in New Jersey.

She also said there are languages reflecting communities. Some schools in New Jersey are offering Hindi. American Sign Language is also gaining momentum in the state.

According to the United States Census Bureau, about a third of New Jersey residents speak a language other than English at home, driven by the continued growth of the immigrant population.

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