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Report reveals divergent trends in modern language job market

English Down, Languages Up
December 21, 2012

After two years of growth in both English and foreign language faculty positions, English jobs are harder to find this year while foreign language jobs continue to grow, according to Modern Language Association data released Thursday.

Although the analysis of the Job Information List, released each year prior to the annual MLA convention, doesn’t include all jobs available within modern language departments, it’s seen as a reliable indicator of the job market in the current hiring season. Overall, MLA projects that 2012-13 will see about 11 percent more positions in foreign languages coupled with a 4 percent decline in English positions. In real numbers, that’s 1,246 jobs in foreign languages that were listed with the association, compared to 1,128 the year before. For jobs in English, that’s 1,191, compared to 1,235 a year ago.

Not since 1995-6 has hiring in the foreign languages exceeded hiring in English. Rosemary Feal, executive director of the MLA, attributed the upward foreign language trend to globalization initiatives that are increasingly part of colleges' and universities’ strategic plans, in addition to students’ increased interest in global and language studies. Still, the gains are relatively small and the discipline hasn’t been restored to full health: available jobs remain 26 percent below the 2007-8 peak, and the hiring trend line spanning more than three decades of data is down, with a net loss of nearly 200 jobs from when the survey started. (English language positions are 39 percent below their 2007-8 peak, but the 38-year trend line is more stable, with a much smaller net job loss.)

MLA Job Postings, by Year
 
Year English Foreign Languages
2007-8 1,826 1,680
2008-9 1,380 1,227
2009-10 1,100 1,022
2010-11 1,190 1,095
2011-12 1,250 1,150
2012-13 (projected) 1,191 1,246

Feal also cautioned that despite the relative accuracy of the annual December report, the current trend could again shift by the end of the academic year (in each of the last three years, for example, more than half of available jobs have been posted only after Jan. 1, due in part to delayed funding approval cycles for positions at institutions facing financial woes). A more thorough jobs report is published each fall, as a wrap-up of the previous hiring season.

Because MLA considers the December report an “interim” assessment of the job market, a breakdown of jobs by category was not available. Last year, however, the largest numbers of English jobs were in composition and rhetoric; British literature; American literature; and comparative literature, respectively. Linguistics and English as a second language were also well-represented. Among foreign languages, Spanish, Francophone studies and German/Scandinavian positions were the most plentiful, in that order.

Spanish jobs took a dive from 2010-11 to 2011-12, which Feal attributed to the rise of more commonly spoken but less commonly studied languages, such as those from East Asia. (Still, last year, Chinese positions accounted for about 8 percent of foreign language jobs listed with MLA, while Spanish jobs accounted for 36 percent.) She called language diversification "a good thing."

Jobs posted with MLA also are generally tenure-track jobs; adjuncts are hired year-round. But it’s those full-time positions with benefits that most humanities scholars will be seeking at the MLA meeting in Boston next month. Ph.D.s and graduate students around the country are preparing for the conference, hoping for an interview – typically in a hotel room, in timed increments between dozens of other candidates – that could lead to a more promising on-campus interview later on. Ervin Malakaj, incoming head of the MLA Graduate Student Caucus and a Ph.D. candidate in the Germanic languages and literature department at Washington University in St. Louis, said graduate students across the country are engaging faculty for mock interviews, résumé help and other professional advice prior to the event.

Although Malakaj said he was pleased to see the number of overall jobs and jobs in the foreign languages increase this year from last, he was taking the data with a grain of salt, since the list doesn't include all those that will be available by the end of the year.

The MLA convention also will devote attention to the future of the much-beleaguered humanities doctorate. President Michael Bérubé’s theme for the conference, “Avenues of Access,” is based in part on the idea of access to tenure-track jobs for Ph.D.s, as well that of advancing the discussion of alternative career paths for Ph.D.s., and Feal said a host of sessions will center on those themes.

With regular reminders of what he called the “troublesome state of graduate education in the humanities,” Malakaj said such offerings were refreshing for graduate students navigating the job market.

 

 

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