In Abrupt Reversal, Foreign-Language Jobs Will Exceed English Positions, MLA Predicts

December 20, 2012

For the first time in almost 20 years, there are likely to be more full-time jobs in 2012-13 for foreign-language scholars than for people with Ph.D.'s in English, according to the Modern Language Association.

The prediction is part of an update on the humanities job market released on Thursday by the association ahead of its annual meeting, which begins on January 3 in Boston. It is based on the MLA's Job Information List, which is widely regarded as one of the best gauges of humanities hiring in academe in the nation.

The update projects that the number of academic jobs in foreign languages in 2012-13 will rise to 1,246, up 10.5 percent from the year before. In English the number of positions is expected to drop to 1,191, down 3.6 percent from 2011-12, the association says. Positions in English have leveled off after two years of increases, according to the update, while foreign-language positions—which had also increased in the previous two years—are still growing.

The association says the expected growth in foreign-language jobs suggests that colleges "recognize the importance of multilingualism in students' education." Despite the growth in foreign-language listings, the number of jobs has still shrunk by about one-fourth from a peak in 2007-8 of 1,680. That shortfall can be explained by colleges' shuttering or consolidating foreign-language programs in the wake of recession-related budget cuts. Meanwhile, English jobs are 34.8 percent below a 2007-8 peak of 1,826.

The association notes that recent hiring trends may affect its predictions. In the last three years more than half of the job vacancies on the Job Information List have surfaced after January 1. As recently as 10 years ago, the October issue of the list would contain half of the total number of vacancies listed in a year. As a result, the number of listings predicted could shift by the end of the 2012-13 academic year.