College enrollments in non-English language studies are up (13% since 2002, according to an MLA survey); an instructional TV program for children on learning Chinese debuts in February; the Third World is booming in terms of commerce and influence; and American parents increasingly stress that second- and third-language mastery will help their children in today's competitive environment. Beth Sutinis, DK publishing director, children's books, sees America as moving away from its status as “a nation of monolinguists.” This is all very good news, in any language, for publishers of language instruction materials.

In light of all this studying, sales of foreign language reference titles are on the rise. “Definitely growing over the past five years,” says Collins president of sales Josh Marwell. “A sudden awakening,” says Tuttle senior editor Sandra Korinchak. “Those old European 'classics' of Spanish, French and German just aren't enough anymore.”

More Languages Spoken Here

At least some of the growth in the category is due to expansion of the pool of languages attracting interest. “Growth seems lateral at the moment, but the emphasis is shifting pretty quickly. I'm seeing new languages like Urdu, Latvian, Czech, Bengali and Hindi pop up,” says Roxane Cerda, senior editor at Wiley, which publishes the Webster's New World series and other titles in the category.

Nancy Grant, v-p of marketing at Houghton Mifflin, which distributes the Larousse bilingual dictionaries, cites burgeoning interest in Korean and Tagalog, as well as Chinese, Russian and Thai. The University of New Mexico Press is even adding dictionaries for indigenous languages such as Jicarilla Apache and Navajo.

Tom Russell, publisher of Random House's Living Language imprint, which has more than three million copies of its Complete Course: The Basics series in print for 10 languages, notes “increased attention to languages that traditionally have not been as popularly studied in the U.S. Everyone knows that Arabic and Chinese have come on strong in the last several years, and our sales have reflected that, but languages like Farsi, Korean and Tagalog are rapidly emerging as well.” Fall 2007 marks publication of the imprint's first courses in those three languages, as well as Hindi and Swahili.

Chinese and Arabic on the Rise

Russell is correct in stating that Chinese and Arabic are the two languages on everyone's lips in this category, and for good reason: Arabic is the 10th most studied language on the MLA list, and study of Chinese has increased 51% since 2002.

As a result, Tuttle Publishing, which was formed 60 years ago with the goal of introducing Americans to Asian language and culture, has found itself in a fortunate position with a backlist of titles like Reading & Writing Chinese: Simplified Character Edition and Survival Chinese, a paperback geared for travelers. And when Tuttle published its first volume of the Arabic in a Flash flashcard set in 2006, it proved one of the publisher's all-time fastest-selling debuts. Korinchak says, “The languages that used to be known as LCTL—less commonly taught languages—are now the ones in biggest demand: Arabic, Chinese, Japanese and Hindi have all been placed on the U.S. State Department's Critical Language list.”

“The U.S. currently imports and exports more goods to and from China than any other country besides Canada,” notes Frederick Glasser, director of schools and libraries for Barron's. which will offer Modern Chinese in spring 2008.

“Due to demographics and world events, the market has picked up for Arabic, Russian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Portuguese,” says Marc Jennings, president of Langenscheidt, which publishes the Berlitz line. “Arabic is in demand for translators and government workers. Chinese is being taught to children as young as two and is offered now in many primary schools.”

Kids' Stuff

Younger learners aren't included in the MLA survey, but they're studying languages in larger numbers as well, particularly Chinese. Tuttle's Korinchak points out that Chicago public schools are now teaching Chinese from pre-k through 12th grade. In February, the Nick Jr. channel will begin airing Ni Hao Kai Lin, a show designed to teach Mandarin Chinese vocabulary to preschoolers in much the way that Dora the Explorer has taught Spanish to the very young. And next year's Beijing Olympics are drawing the attention of both children and adults to China.

Plus, says DK's Sutinis, “We have parents now in their 30s and 40s who are raising kids and who think there's a big leg up educationally and in terms of future careers.” In June, DK published Get Talking Chinese, a $12.99 book and CD package with a 15,000-copy first printing.

The Tuttle for Kids series launches with Tuttle Chinese for Kids Flash Cards in the spring. “We chose Chinese to launch the series because it's not only the most-spoken world language, but one that Americans are especially eager to expose their kids to,” says Korinchak. Japanese, Korean, Indonesian, Arabic and Filipino are under development.

Even language materials that aren't aimed at the elementary-school set are skewing younger and edgier. Ulysses Press had its first foray in the category with Dirty Japanese in April 2007. “People want to know how to talk like they normally talk in a foreign language, and we can't compete with the category killers,” says acquisitions editor Nick Denton-Brown. Initial orders of Dirty Japanese were “modest,” but the 5,000-copy first printing sold out quickly once Barnes & Noble and Borders reordered, and the title is now the press's fifth bestselling book. Dirty Italian was published this fall, and Dirty Spanish and Dirty French are in the pipeline.

Old Guard Stays Strong

Even Larousse—a grande dame in the business for more than 150 years previously producing materials only in French, Spanish, German, Italian, Portuguese and Polish—is considering stepping out of the Old World to publish Chinese-language products. But no one is writing off the traditional tongues. As the MLA report notes, Spanish is still the most commonly studied language in the U.S., and Spanish, French and German account for more than 70% of language enrollment.

Marwell at Collins says, “The big three languages—Spanish, French and Italian—continue to dominate foreign language reference sales. Of these three, Spanish is dominant, with over 50% of the market. French is second.” The mass market edition of Collins Spanish remains the house's bestseller in the category, with more than 600,000 copies in print.

Other publishers have similarly strong sales of Spanish and Spanish-English reference materials. At Larousse, El Pequeño Larousse Ilustrado is the line's bestselling title, and the company's bestselling bilingual dictionary is the Larousse Bilingual English/Spanish Pocket Dictionary. Oxford University Press has sold more than 200,000 copies of its unabridged Oxford Spanish Dictionary; its fourth edition, due in May 2008, incorporates 4,000 new words. Webster's New World Pocket Spanish Dictionary is Wiley's bestselling foreign language reference title, and Christopher Brown, publisher for language and study guides at McGraw-Hill, estimates that Spanish accounts for close to 40% of the market in terms of revenue. At Berlitz, Italian has surpassed French to move into second place, while Spanish still sits at number one.

Romance languages are also key for traveler materials like phrase books, despite the euro's current tromping on the weak dollar. “Travel has picked up to pre-2001 levels, and the overall market for Spanish, French and Italian is strong and growing across all series,” says Langenscheidt's Jennings.

The Rick Steves phrase books, published by Avalon, stick to European languages; Italian remains the most popular, just as Italy remains the most popular guidebook destination in the series. Avalon (and Steves, who has his own 50-person staff) continues to branch out within Europe and will add phrase books for Greek, Dutch and Polish in fall 2008.

There's a third category, in which Spanish is virtually the only player: vocational guides such as Spanish for Human Resource Managers and Spanish for Pharmacists and Pharmacists Assistants, due in spring 2008 from Barron's, and Working Spanish for Teachers and Education Professionals from Wiley.

Oyez, Oyez!?

Whatever the language, Wiley publisher Cindy Kitchel says, “Audio is driving the category a lot more,” and one device is driving audio: the iPod. Beginning next spring, Wiley will begin offering downloadable MP3s with its core Webster's New World Spanish language books.

OUP's Take Off In... audio language learning series now comes with free MP3 downloads. “Our market research consistently shows that users of our dictionaries rate audio content very highly, whether they are using them online, on a CD or on a PDA or handheld device,” adds Oxford publishing manager, dictionaries, Judy Pearsall. Living Language's Russell calls the iPod influence, which has made language learning “a more mobile experience,” one of the most prominent trends in recent years.

Barron's Glasser agrees that consumers want to learn in motion: “With time at more of a premium than ever, language learners are using drive time to improve language skills.” Barron's has several CD-based series, including the E-Z Language Guides, and its bilingual dictionaries come with free electronic downloads.

In May, Lonely Planet launched its Fast Talk Audio series with French, Spanish and Italian. Ben Handicott, associate publisher, language products, reports that at $6.99 the CD-book pairings are not only outselling the Fast Talk series of $4.99 pocket-sized phrasebooks, but are more successful than downloads of the same material.

Kodansha International's Japanese for Busy People (previous editions have sold more than one million copies collectively) is now packaged with a CD, and Breaking into Japanese Literature includes downloadable MP3 files.

In the past year, McGraw-Hill launched its iSpeak program, $12.95 paperback phrase books with MP3 files on CD designed for the iPod. It's about time, says Brown: “Language learning was a little behind the curve. We were still selling cassettes at the end of the 20th century.”

Langenscheidt's Jennings sees electronic audio as simply the latest entry on a continuum. He says, “In the early days Berlitz offered record albums with language lessons.” The publisher's new On Demand language learning series comes on its own MP3 player, complete with earphones.

Oxford has launched a major online initiative with its Oxford Language Dictionaries Online, a subscription site. The four languages currently available—Spanish, French, Italian and German—will be joined next March by Chinese and Russian. And also in spring 2008, Oxford will begin test-marketing the bundling of the online service with print unabridged dictionaries in those languages, so that purchase of the Oxford Spanish Dictionary will grant the consumer six months of access to the site.

The Internet serves as a handy delivery method for these electronic components, but it also offers competition. There are numerous free bilingual dictionaries accessible online. Indeed, online competition has “sharper impact” in this category than elsewhere, says Tuttle's Korinchak, but she doesn't think that's a negative—“It's been great for motivation.”

Foreign-language enrollments, 2002-2006

Source: Enrollments in Languages Other Than English in United States Institutions of Higher Education, Fall 2006 (Modern Language Association of America).
1. Spanish 822,985 52.2% +10.3%
2. French 206,426 13.1 +2.2
3. German 94,264 6.0 +3.5
4. American Sign Language 78,829 5.0 +29.7
5. Italian 78,368 5.0 +22.6
6. Japanese 66,605 4.2 +27.5
7. Chinese 51,582 3.3 +51.0
8. Latin 32,191 2.0 +7.9
9. Russian 24,845 1.6 +3.9
10. Arabic 23,974 1.5 +126.5
11. Ancient Greek 22,849 1.4 +12.1
12. Biblical Hebrew 14,140 0.9 -0.3
13. Portuguese 10,267 0.7 +22.4
14. Modern Hebrew 9,612 0.6 +11.5
15. Korean 7,145 0.5 +37.1