Foreign language learning in severe decline in UK

The new General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) results show foreign languages are in severe decline – with the number of children learning French and German falling most dramatically of all.

Ever since the previous government decided, in 2004, to make language learning optional after the age of 14, the numbers have been dropping. Yesterday’s GCSE results revealed that three-quarters of students did not sit a French exam this year, with entries having dropped 6% from a year ago to only 177,618. German fared little better, falling 4.5% to 70,169. A slight uplift in Spanish entrants (almost 1%, to 67,707) and greater interest in non-traditional languages such as Chinese and Polish, was not enough to patch over a clear and depressing trend.

According to the Department for Children, Schools and Families, languages will be compulsory for 7-11-year-olds from 2011, yet currently, only one in four primary schools offers any access to languages at all. “There are schools,” says Onora O’Neill, president of the British Academy, “who put zero children in for modern languages.”