Latest News

A selection of language-related news. Does not claim to be comprehensive or represent the views of SCILT.

Language Learning - Decline

SQA results: huge drop in students studying higher languages ​​and sciences

9 August 2022 (News Headlines UK)

The number of pupils studying modern languages, science and maths at higher level has fallen significantly, figures released by the Scottish Qualifications Authority show.

Only 505 students took higher German in 2022, compared to 780 students in 2020, while the number of students taking French and Spanish at higher level also fell significantly.

Around 3,165 students took Higher Level French in 2020, a number that dropped to 2,500 this year. A total of 2,900 students took Higher Level Spanish in 2020, a drop to 2,465 this year.

The reasons for the sharp drop in the number of students studying modern languages ​​at higher level are not clear, but the question of the affordability of language teaching in schools has been addressed by Holyrood’s inquiry education committee before the pandemic.


Related Links

SQA results: Huge drop in pupils taking Higher languages and sciences (The Herald, 9 August 2022) - Note, subscription required to access full article.

How to boost MFL entries at GCSE and A level

6 May 2022 (TES)

Why are so many students choosing to drop modern foreign languages (MFL) at GCSE and A level?

It's a problem that Emma Marsden, a professor of foreign language education at the University of York, is determined to analyse, and ultimately, help to resolve. 

The work has been ongoing for six years. In 2016, Marsden and a colleague, Dr Rachel Hawkes, contributed towards the MFL Pedagogy Review, which resulted in 15 recommendations to boost the quality of MFL in key stages 3 and 4, and the number of students opting to study languages throughout their time in school. 

To ensure that these recommendations were achievable and effective in schools, in 2018, the Department of Education established the National Centre for Excellence for Language Pedagogy (NCELP), with Marsden and Hawkes as co-directors working with Dr Rowena Kasprowicz and Professor Suzanne Graham from the University of Reading, and Robert Woore from the University of Oxford, along with 18 specialist teachers and a network of 45 schools. 

They had the task of ensuring that teachers were supported in understanding and delivering some of the pedagogical recommendations of the review. 

Here, Marsden discusses NCELP's work, and what teachers can to do within their own classrooms to deliver quality MFL lessons and improve uptake. 

(Note - subscription required to access full article).


Scottish Gaelic supporters are trying to reverse the rapid decline of the language

27 December 2021 (Eminetra/FT)

When John Finlayson was growing, almost everyone in his community on Skye was fluent in Gaelic. Despite decades of official support for what was once the dominant language in most of Scotland’s highlands and islands, Finlayson is now the only neighbour of the island family’s croft that speaks it. 


'Urgent' action needed to reverse decline in pupils studying languages

7 October 2021 (BBC)

More than 70 Irish teachers and speakers have warned of a "critical decline" in pupils studying Irish and other languages in schools.

They are calling for the Department of Education (DE) to recommend that all pupils should study a language at GCSE.

It is currently not compulsory.

Signatories to the open letter from the Irish language body, Gael Linn, said "urgent and decisive action" was needed to reverse a decline in pupils studying languages.

A survey carried out by the BBC in 2019 found that more than a third of schools in Northern Ireland had stopped offering French, German or Spanish at GCSE in the previous five years.

Separate exam figures also showed the number of pupils taking modern languages at GCSE had fallen by more than 40% in the past 15 years.

A more recent study from the British Council said that teaching children modern languages at primary school "all but collapsed" during the Covid-19 pandemic.

A scheme to teach primary pupils additional languages was scrapped by DE due to financial cuts in 2015.


New British Academy president pledges to monitor decline of modern foreign languages

23 July 2021 (University Business)

The new president of the British Academy has vowed to monitor “the health of SHAPE disciplines”, like modern foreign languages, which have been hampered by dropping provision in higher education institutions. 

SHAPE stands for ‘social sciences, humanities and the arts for people and the economy’ and is a collective name coined last year by the British Academy, London School of Economics (LSE), the Academy of Social Sciences and Arts Council England.

‘’I will commit the British Academy to redoubling its work on monitoring the health of SHAPE disciplines, and particularly those affected by shrinking provision in higher education institutions such as modern languages,” said Prof Julia Black, the 31st president of the British Academy.


Ofsted: 9 barriers facing languages teaching

7 June 2021 (TES)

A review into modern languages teaching in England's schools has today been published by schools inspectorate Ofsted.

It identifies the “pressured position” of languages in English schools and states that “there are many barriers that still need to be overcome for languages to flourish”.


Why English-speakers should not give up on foreign languages

22 May 2021 (The Economist)

Aston University in Birmingham is closing the department that teaches languages and translation. The University of Sheffield stands accused of sending its language students on dumbed-down courses to save money. Fewer pupils at British schools are taking foreign-language exams (a drop in French, the most popular choice, accounts for most of the decline). A hasty analysis might see this trend as a nationalist, populist, post-Brexit mindset at work. But it has been gathering for a long time, not just in Britain but in America, and not just in the Brexit and Trump eras, but well before them.

The tragic attack on America of September 11th 2001 had one positive consequence. Many Americans realised how entangled their lives were with those of people around the world, and saw that they often did not understand their counterparts’ hopes and fears. Some patriotically applied to join the diplomatic and intelligence services; a few swotty types resolved to learn foreign languages. The number of students studying Arabic at university soared (albeit from a very low base). But the country’s attention has since wandered. 

(Note - subscription required to access full article)


Pandemic a wake-up call on language learning decline across English-speaking world

1 December 2020 (British Academy)

The COVID-19 crisis demonstrates how essential foreign language skills are to international cooperation and highlights the need for anglophone nations to step up language learning, the British Academy warns today in an unprecedented joint statement with organisations from the USA, Canada and Australia.

Published today, The Importance of Languages in Global Context calls on governments, policy makers, educators and industry to take “concerted, systematic and coordinated” action to increase capacity for easily accessible education in a broad range of languages.

The statement is signed by the British Academy, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Australian Academy of the Humanities, the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia and the Royal Society of Canada.

The academies highlight the key role that language skills play in international cooperation, especially during global crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic when researchers, governments and healthcare workers need to share accurate information. However, anglophone nations are not producing enough speakers of languages other than English to meet 21st-century needs and are not doing enough to support those who are already multilingual to use and develop their valuable skills.


Gaelic language expected to die out in a decade, but can it be saved?

23 October 2020 (Channel 5 News)

Scottish Gaelic is a language which is set to die out in the next decade. The University of the Highlands and Islands says only 11,000 people can speak it, most over the age of 50. So how can it be saved?

See the Channel 5 video report on YouTube.


Scottish pupils among top performers in new Pisa test

22 October 2020 (TES)

Recent Pisa results have brought bad news for Scotland but a new test suggests students are being well equipped to deal with globalisation.

Scottish pupils are among the most likely in the developed world to understand and appreciate the perspective of others, demonstrate some of the most positive attitudes towards immigrants, and score highly on a test that assesses the ability to evaluate information and analyse multiple perspectives.

Students from 27 countries and economies, including Scotland, took part in Pisa’s 2018 assessment of global competence, which included a test focusing on three areas: the ability to evaluate information, formulate arguments and explain issues and situations; to identify and analyse multiple perspectives; and to evaluate actions and consequences.

[..] Dr Tarek Mostafa, the policy analyst in the OECD Directorate for Education and Skills who was in charge of the global competence report, told Tes Scotland: “The main takeaway messages from the report are: students in Scotland have very positive attitudes towards immigrants and when it comes to respect for people from other cultures. In addition to this, they perform well on the global competence cognitive test and Scotland is among the three top-ranking countries on the test.”

[..] “For the other indices, students report values close to the OECD average,” he added.

Scottish pupils were also among the least likely to speak several languages: 64.5 per cent of Scottish pupils said they did not learn foreign languages at school, which was around five times the OECD average of 11.7 per cent.  

(Note - subscription required to access full article).


Edinburgh Napier is third university in Scotland to cut their foreign language programme

5 October 2020 (Edinburgh Evening News)

Deeming their language courses as “economically unsustainable”, Napier will terminate the teaching of French, Spanish and German from the beginning of the next academic year.

The announcement comes amid warnings of an “intellectual Brexit” in higher education and a drastic cut in income to higher education institutions due to the Covid-19 pandemic..

The changes will see Napier follow in the footsteps of fellow Edinburgh-based University, Heriot Watt, who are to launch an external review of their language programmes, despite their Scotland-leading position in translation. Meanwhile, Dundee University announced it will drop its German programmes.


Don't take away the one thing that will guarantee a thriving global Britain

16 September 2020 (The Telegraph)

Language learning always seems to be the first casualty of budget cuts in education. Nothing could be more short-sighted.

(Note - subscription required to access full article)


Exclusive: DfE funds undergrad MFL GCSE volunteer force

28 February 2020 (TES)

The Department for Education has backed a deployment of specially trained undergraduate MFL mentors in secondary schools designed to boost the number of pupils studying languages at GCSE.

The Language Horizons Mentoring Scheme, which is led by Cardiff University's School of Modern Languages, has been awarded a £430,000 grant from the DfE and involves degree students are working with Year 8 and 9 students either through face-to-face or digital sessions.

[..] During a recent pilot in ten schools in South Yorkshire, 53 per cent of students who took part went on to choose a modern foreign language at GCSE, and most said it "changed the way they think about languages in relation to their future lives" say scheme organisers.

(Subscription required to access full article)


Foreign languages ‘squeezed out‘ of schools in Wales

26 November 2019 (Stock Daily Dish)

Foreign languages are being squeezed out of school timetables by “core” subjects like the Welsh Baccalaureate, a survey suggests.

Schools and colleges were asked for reasons why there had been a major decline in pupils taking subjects such as French and German.

There has been a 29% fall in language GCSE entries in Wales in five years – a steeper fall than the rest of the UK.

The Welsh Government said its new curriculum would improve the situation.

More than half of all secondary schools and colleges in Wales responded to the survey about language teaching.

It found more than a third of schools had dropped one or more languages at GCSE in the last five years.

Teachers also said the perception modern languages were “too hard” was also having an effect on their uptake.


The crisis in language education across the UK — what it means for schools and the future of business

16 November 2019 (iNews)

As a nation, we are not known for our proficiency in foreign languages. The stereotype of the Brit abroad, repeating English slowly and loudly to the locals, has more than a grain of truth.

In England, language study has declined so much that the exam regulator, Ofqual, recently decided to lower grade boundaries in GCSE French and German to encourage teenagers to take them.

Can anything be done about our struggles? Or should we lighten up about it? A former Downing Street education expert has told i that seriously improving our language ability is not a high-enough priority to justify the vast expense involved.

In Britain, 34.6 per cent of people aged between 25 and 64 report that they know one or more foreign language, compared with an EU average of 64.8 per cent.

GCSE and A-level language entries in England, Wales and Northern Ireland have been declining since the turn of the century, although a rise in Spanish entries provides a shred of comfort.

In Scotland, language entries at National 4 and 5 level have dropped by about a fifth since 2014.

This has been accompanied by the quiet death of the foreign exchange, suffocated in part by exaggerated safety concerns. A survey by the British Council five years ago found that just four in 10 schools run trips involving a stay with a host family. Martha de Monclin, a British expat living in France, is often asked whether she knows British families who are happy to be involved in exchanges, but in seven years has found only one.

Where they do happen, pupils just go sightseeing and stay in hotels, she says. “With mobile phones, they are constantly connected to their friends and family at home. This makes it incredibly difficult to learn a language.”


If Britain’s young love Europe so much why aren’t they learning the lingo?

18 October 2019 (Life Spectator)

Most of my friends are moderate Remainers. There’s the odd fanatic, the sort who go on marches demanding a People’s Vote. What I can’t understand is why none of them can speak French, German, or indeed any European language.

They go on holiday to Europe, but only to those parts where they won’t have to speak the lingo because fortunately Johnny Foreigner has had the good sense to learn English.

Something else that confuses me is the belief, most pungently articulated by David Aaronovitch, that Brexit will be reversed in a few years because those stuck-in-the-past Gammons will shuffle off this mortal coil to be replaced in the electorate by a shiny new Briton: young, cosmopolitan and forward-looking, who believe the sun shines out of the Brussels’ class. In which case, why are fewer school children than ever bothering to learn a foreign language?

According to a report in the BBC this year, the learning of foreign languages is at its lowest level in UK secondary schools since the turn of the millennium. Since 2013 there has been a decline of between 30 to 50 per cent in the numbers taking GCSE language courses with German and French suffering most. That’s in England; in Northern Ireland the drop in pupils learning modern languages at GSCE is 40% while in Scotland there has been a 19% decline since 2014. And there was me thinking those two countries couldn’t get enough of all things European.

Furthermore, in March this year the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Modern Languages released a report stating that since 2000 more than fifty UK universities have cut language courses, or done away with departments entirely.

I blame the parents. In 2013 a report revealed that only a quarter of British adults were capable of holding even a basic conversation in a language other than English; of those, French was the most common, followed by German.


Gaelic 'disappearing' from Scottish island communities

18 October 2019 (The Guardian)

The number of Gaelic speakers in Scotland’s island communities has plummeted in less than a decade, according to a leading Highland researcher who believes the language is on the point of “societal collapse” across Scotland.

Although just over 58,000 people reported themselves as Gaelic speakers in the 2011 Scottish census, Prof Conchúr Ó Giollagáin, the director of the Language Sciences Institute at the University of the Highlands and Islands, will publish a study next year following extensive fieldwork in the Western Isles, Skye and Tiree that estimates that the vernacular group on the islands, where speakers are most heavily concentrated, does not exceed 11,000.

Ó Giollagáin believes that existing policies to promote Gaelic focus too heavily on encouraging new speakers, mainly in urban areas, or promoting it as a heritage language, and that without a significant shift to supporting existing speakers, Gaelic “will continue as the language of school and heritage but not as a living language”.


Related Links

Number of island Gaelic speakers ‘plummeting’ (The Scotsman, 20 October 2019)

Welsh, Hawaiian and Navajo … now Gaelic is in line for a rescue (The Guardian, 20 October 2019)

We're losing the language of Goethe, Bach and handshoes

29 September 2019 (TES)

The German language is the widest-spoken in the EU. It is the key to German culture. And, says Hayley Gray, it is at risk of dying out in schools.

Auf Wiedersehen, Deutsch! After 27 years of sharing my love of all things German with thousands of students aged 11-18, I spent this summer shredding materials, donating books and binning years of precious resources. 

In June, I taught my last-ever German lesson. From this September, in addition to my senior leadership role, I will teach only French. It is with a deep sense of regret that I have had to accept that the subject I fell in love with aged 11 – the language of the country I have lived and worked in, travelled extensively around and developed in as a person – will never again appear on my timetable. Nor will it be formally taught at a school whose values and sense of moral purpose I feel equally passionate about.

As a former head of German, I remain as committed as ever to the importance of teaching languages in our schools. But, as a school leader and manager, I also understand the financial challenges facing schools. Once my own school lost its language-college funding a few years back, our language department could no longer afford the luxury of offering three languages to pupils. 

The decision to drop German was driven by numbers, staffing expertise and tightening budgets, and the benefit of learning German was not able to be a consideration. 

We fought a hard battle to retain German. We reduced our time allocation at key stage 5 to sustain smaller group sizes. We joined forces with the history department to introduce a popular Berlin trip. We delivered assemblies, organised cultural events and set up a key stage 3 German club, but to no avail. 

Our school’s decision merely reflects a national trend. GCSE entries in German were down by 12.5 per cent since last year. Coupled with declining numbers at A level and fewer applicants at university level, this means we no longer have the pipeline of teachers entering the profession. We will soon lose our ability to teach certain languages, and German will disappear from our state schools in the same way Latin did.

Soon there will be a shortage of language skills in general among our young people. This will mean the loss of more than just our ability to converse. To quote Charlemagne: “To have another language is to possess a second soul.”

I believe we nurture those second souls in our teaching of languages. The decision to learn a foreign language is an act of self-care and personal discovery. It’s not just a route to better communication, but also an opportunity to get to know yourself better and to consider your values and your culture, the way you operate and think. 

(Subscription required to access full article)


Paul McNamee: Languages can cut through the class gap

26 August 2019 (The Big Issue)

I am hugely impressed by people who can speak more than one language. If you’re up at three or more, I’m at your feet. I would have kept Roy Hodgson as England’s football manager for as long as he wanted purely because he once gave a post-match press conference moving easily from English to Italian to Swedish. He also has some Norwegian and Finnish.

There was a strange mixture of support and sniffiness when Boris Johnson spoke French last week during his meeting with Emmanuel Macron. On the one side, his supporters said, well he can’t be a non-European bigot because he speaks French. On the other, the argument was, well he still is. Neither stack up. And both miss the point.


Slump in school language learning hits Scottish universities

6 November 2018 (The Herald)

The number of students from Scotland learning a modern language at university has fallen by more than 500 in the past five years.

New figures show 3,400 students chose languages at a Scottish university in 2016/17 compared to nearly 4,000 in 2012/13.

The decline, which shows numbers are falling for German, French, Russian and Spanish, has sparked fears Scotland will become increasingly isolated in the world, particularly following Brexit.

This summer, opposition politicians called on the Scottish Government to launch an inquiry into the decline in the number of pupils studying modern languages at school.

The drop has been blamed partly on curriculum reforms which mean pupils experience a broader education in the first three years of secondary.

That means exam subjects are chosen a year later than previously with a shorter time to prepare - resulting in some subjects getting squeezed out.

Professor Vicente Perez de Leon, Head of the School of Modern Languages at Glasgow University, said the school squeeze was hitting university recruitment.

And he argued language learning at school should be protected and resourced to ensure numbers increase.

“Languages are something that can open possibilities for employment abroad or having better jobs here,” he said.

“They can open minds and allow students to make connections with new people, new cultures and new literature. It should be a priority within the curriculum.”

Dr Dan Tierney, an independent languages expert, said the decline was also fuelled by the closure of some university departments.


The problem with German

17 October 2018 (The Linguist)

Does the portrayal of Germans by the UK press stop pupils wanting to study the language, asks Heike Krüsemann.

Working as a secondary school German teacher for over two decades, I became more and more aware of how difficult British students seemed to find learning languages. This was playing out against the background of declining language uptake nationally, which has affected German the most. Currently, fewer than half of all 16-year-olds take a language GCSE. The number studying German has fallen by more than a third since 2010, while German A-level entries have dropped by three-quarters since 1997 to just 3,000. Experts now hold that German as a school subject is “headed for extinction”.

What my students heard about German, Germans and Germany often did not square with what they experienced in lessons, or through travel and contact with German people. This made me wonder whether motivation to learn German, including uptake at school, was related to public discourses around German. This question became a research focus of my PhD. The ’school’ part of my study involved just over 500 learners, their German teachers and head teachers from four English secondary schools; the ‘public’ part consisted of a large number of articles about German, Germans and Germany from a range of UK national newspapers.


Exclusive: Hopes of languages revival snuffed out

19 September 2018 (TES)

A teaching union has questioned official figures showing that GCSE entries in modern foreign languages have increased for the first time in five years.

A “glimmer of hope” was offered to linguists on results day last month when it was revealed that there had been a 0.4 per cent increase in entries this year.

But the Association of School and College Leaders says this was probably due to some schools switching from iGCSEs (which no longer count in school performance tables) to the new reformed GCSE qualifications.

The ASCL says the number of iGCSE entries in England fell significantly, and that the statistics change when iGCSE and GCSE entries are combined.

Overall, the number of German entries fell by 3.5 per cent since last year, for example, and did not rise by 2 per cent as exam board GCSE entry figures show.

Similarly, the increase in Spanish entries was just 1.7 per cent when you include the drop in iGCSE entries, says the ASCL, and not the 4.4 per cent publicised this summer.

Lastly, the number of French candidates fell by 5.9 per cent, rather than the 2.9 per cent shown in just GCSE figures.


A-levels: proportion of students in England getting C or above falls

16 August 2018 (The Guardian)

The proportion of students in England gaining C grades or above in A-levels fell back this year, driven by a relatively weaker performance among girls, as schools and students continue to grapple with the introduction of new, more intensive exams.

[..] Modern languages continued their baleful downward trend, with nearly 8% fewer entries in French, German and Spanish. More A-level students took Chinese this year than German.


Applications for languages degrees plummet, figures show

15 August 2018 (The Herald)

The number of applications for foreign language degrees has plummeted in the last decade, figures show.

Applications for both European and non-European language degree courses have fallen, according to an analysis of Ucas data carried out by the Press Association.

(Note - subscription required to read full article).


Related Links

Number of students interested in studying foreign languages drops (The National, 15 August 2018)

Can £27m a year bring a language back from near death?

1 August 2018 (BBC)

The feeling of walking barefoot across a beach in summer and the sun-warmed sand chafing my toes takes me the length of this sentence to describe. My great-great-grandfather, Angus Morrison, would have used one word: driùchcainn. 

That’s because, born and bred on the fringes of Western Europe, on Lewis, in the archipelago of the Outer Hebrides, his mother tongue was Scottish Gaelic.

It’s the ancient Celtic language heard by TV audiences tuning into the Highlands time-travelling saga Outlander.

In real life, working together crofting, fishing, weaving or cutting peat for fires, my ancestors spoke in Gaelic. It was spoken at home, sung at parties, used at church. But education in Angus’s day was strictly in English. As late as the 1970s, children were sometimes punished for speaking Gaelic at school.

Raised alongside Atlantic surf and storms, he became a sailor. Then, in the mid-nineteenth century, moved to Glasgow, and settled there working as a ship’s rigger. Among the principles he instilled in the family was the importance of education. But he did not pass on his cradle tongue.

My family story illustrates what linguistics experts call intergenerational breakdown. In 2018, along with about half of the world’s estimated 6,000 languages, Scottish Gaelic is considered at risk of dying out.


Language courses at risk amid staff shortage

30 July 2018 (The Times)

Head teachers may have to cut language courses in schools as a staffing shortage worsens.

With weeks to go until lectures begin, some modern language courses for teachers at leading universities are half empty. There is already a widespread recruitment crisis in the profession.

At the University of the West of Scotland only 11 of 20 places for one-year postgraduate teacher training courses in modern languages in secondary schools had been filled by mid-July.


'Brexit is the reason': Less than half of English teens learn a foreign language

27 June 2018 (Euronews)

Less than half of English pupils choose to learn a modern foreign language at school, a new report has found.

The proportion of English students sitting foreign language exams at the end of their compulsory education — at age 16 — stood at 47% in 2017, the British Council revealed in its Language Trends survey released on Wednesday.

In 2002, that figure stood at 76%.


Language lesson gap means poorest miss out, says report

27 June 2018 (BBC)

Children from poorer backgrounds in England are increasingly likely to miss out on learning a foreign language, suggests a report.

Some teachers blame new tougher GCSEs for putting lower ability pupils off language learning.

There is also a perception that languages are less important since the vote to leave the European Union, says the British Council study.

The government says its reforms are boosting modern languages in schools.

The Language Trends Survey has published an annual report since 2002 when more than three-quarters of pupils (76%) took a modern language GCSE.

By 2011, only 40% of pupils took a language at GCSE.

The subject has recovered in recent years - in 2016 almost half of 16-year-olds took a language GCSE - but this figure fell to 47% last year.

There has been a similar long-term decline at A-level.


Britain must address its linguaphobia now to survive post-Brexit

7 June 2018 (The Conversation)

In addition to securing the UK’s departure from the EU, the June 2016 Brexit referendum exposed deep-seated prejudice against speakers of languages other than English. Politicians and pundits, including former Ukip leader Nigel Farage, fuelled xenophobic rhetoric by claiming that “in many parts of England you don’t hear English spoken any more”. Meanwhile the media has reported that people are being harassed or attacked on public transport, in shops or on the streets of British towns for “not speaking English”.

Though the EU itself has no plans to use English any less in meetings and documents, Britain cannot rely on this fact to justify its own monolingualism. Speaking other languages and working with other cultures is a global fact and, post-Brexit, Britain will need to work with countries all over the world more than ever.

The troubling presence of linguaphobia is just one legacy of the referendum campaign, but like so many other forms of prejudice, it is nothing new. Linguaphobia is a concept that first developed in the 1950s to identify a form of monolingualism that shows itself in a hostility towards learning other languages. For leading modern linguistics expert Charles Forsdick, post-referendum, this has translated itself into “an ideological phenomenon that judges national belonging in terms of the exclusive use of the English language”.

Yet as Forsdick and others assert, this “ideological monolingualism” is a deeply flawed perception of the history of languages in the UK. It distorts the past and present of multilingualism in the UK, and ill equips the population to face the brave new world of trade and cultural diplomacy it will need to master.


The rise of translation and the death of foreign language learning

5 June 2018 (BBC Radio 3)

Professor Nicola McLelland and Vicky Gough of the British Councl to examine why, in UK schools and universities, the number of students learning a second language is collapsing - whilst the number of languages spoken in Britain is rising and translated fiction is becoming more available and popular. (Listen to the BBC Radio 3 broadcast from 33:30).


Number of Scottish pupils passing foreign language exams has halved in 10 years

6 May 2018 (Daily Record)

The number of Scottish pupils passing foreign language exams has halved over 10 years.

The total at all levels has plunged from 60,176 in 2007 to just 28,503 in 2017.

The fall has been most severe in basic qualifications, raising concerns the figures could get worse in coming years as youngsters lack foundation skills. 

Opposition politicians and business leaders have voiced fears that Scotland’s ability to compete as a global economy could be at risk.


Diversity of subjects essential to national prosperity post-Brexit, warns British Academy

2 May 2018 (British Academy)

The British Academy, the UK’s body for the humanities and social sciences, has urged the Government not to prioritise some subjects over others, arguing that a healthy, prosperous and global Britain needs a diversity of graduates.

It also warns of the risks of relying too much on market-driven solutions in a post-Brexit world.

In its submission to the Government’s review of post-18 education and funding, the British Academy highlights the contribution of graduates from the arts, humanities and social sciences to the UK’s culture, economy and international reputation. Many of the 1.25m who study these disciplines each year go on to work in the service sector, which makes up some 80% of the UK’s economy. They also drive the creative industries, one of the UK’s major cultural exports. Others enter jobs of social importance such as teaching and social work.

The British Academy’s submission highlights a growing trend of universities shrinking or closing courses in subjects such as languages and philosophy. In the last decade, at least 10 modern languages departments have closed and a further nine significantly downsized.

The British Academy cites a report for the government published in 2014 which estimates that a lack of foreign language skills could already be costing the UK billions of pounds.


The need for a national languages policy and a more holistic approach towards languages in the UK

21 October 2017 (MEITS)

In this podcast Wendy Ayres-Bennett from the University of Cambridge talks to Baroness Jean Coussins, Co-Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Modern Languages, about the need for a national languages policy and a more holistic approach towards languages in the UK.


Gaelic study sees decline in its heartland of the Outer Hebrides

12 October 2017 (The Herald)

The long-term future of the Gaelic language in the Outer Hebrides is under threat, according to a leading academic.

The warning came after new figures showed a decline in pupils studying Gaelic in parts of the Western Isles.

Once regarded as the traditional stronghold of the language, numbers sitting Gaelic exams in the third and fourth year of secondary school have fallen from 78 to just 24 in the past decade.

The decline mirrors a drop across Scotland with a nine per cent fall in entries for all Gaelic exams in 2017 including National 5 and Higher.

Professor Rob Dunbar, chair of Celtic languages at Edinburgh University, said he was concerned for the future of the language.


Related Links

Sharp drop in island learners raises fears for future of Gaelic (The Times, 12 October 2017)

Pupils losing out as schools prepare for GCSE early, says Ofsted

11 October 2017 (TES)

It is unnecessary to shorten key stage 3 to make more time for GCSEs, Amanda Spielman, the chief inspector of Ofsted, has said.

An investigation by the schools watchdog has found that schools are often shortening KS3, which means “some pupils never study history, geography or a language after the age of 12 or 13”.

The intensity of exam preparation is getting in the way of pupils receiving the subject knowledge they need, the watchdog has said.


'Post-Brexit, we need language more than ever. Why is the government ignoring the decline of MFL in our schools?'

4 October 2017 (TES)

'Instead of focusing on narrowing the curriculum with the Ebacc, the government needs to focus increasing MFL knowledge in schools – it will be crucial in a post-Brexit Britain'.

A press release landed in my inbox earlier this week warning of a looming languages deficit in the UK, post-Brexit.

According to its figures, 61 per cent of Brits speak no other language than English – a proportion, it's speculated that will rise as EU nationals and British linguists leave the country for jobs abroad, taking their skills with them. At the same time, English will decline as a global language – it's already been replaced by Chinese, Hindi and Spanish, which all have more native speakers.

Languages float my boat. I was a first-generation child born in the UK, of immigrant parents, who started school with no English. This was in the days before teaching assistants, EAL and other interventions. I don’t actually recall how, or when, I learned English but it didn’t take long. "Just get on with it" was the approach. I think they called it immersion.

The press release turned out to be promoting a language-learning app but setting that to one side, it raised some important questions.

Are we bad at languages in this country because of the quality of teaching and teacher shortages? Or is it because we’re ambivalent about others and their culture?

As we hurtle towards March 2019, it is one of many issues ministers need to address. As we face the reality of leaving the EU, languages are just one aspect of the deficits in our education system. And, so far, there has been little evidence of any joined-up thinking between government rhetoric and domestic practicalities.


Ignore the panic. There’s little point learning languages at school

25 August 2017 (The Guardian)

Education policy is like defence policy. It is always fighting the last war but one. Predictable woe has greeted the plummeting number of pupils studying modern languages, which have fallen by roughly 10% in a year and German by one-third since 2010. Only Chinese and Arabic look reasonably healthy – I wonder if this might be because rising numbers of Chinese and Arabic-speakers are studying?


Related Links

Why learn German? (The Times Literary Supplement, 27 August 2017)

Just speaking English won’t get us very far in the world  (The Guardian, 28 August 2017)

The Importance Of Young People Studying Languages  (Huffington Post, 29 August 2017)

Learn languages at school – and expand your horizons (The Guardian, 3 September 2017)

Just what “global Britain” needs—a crisis in language learning

24 August 2017 (Prospect Magazine)

Ever since 2004, when the Labour government gave schools the freedom to make languages optional, education ministers have awaited GCSE and A level entry figures with the trepidation of candidates who know they have messed up their French oral. Numbers for foreign languages GCSEs have dropped by a whopping 44 per cent and numbers for French and German A levels have declined by more than a third over the past 13 years.

This year’s crop of A level exam figures have been greeted with relief by government and exam boards alike. “Steady” and “stable” have been the preferred adjectives. But GCSE numbers published on Thursday show another huge decline which appears to wipe out earlier increases linked to some of Michael Gove’s reforms.

The headline statistics here are troubling indeed. Numbers for French are down 10 per cent on last year, and for German 13 per cent, making this year’s figures the lowest yet. But even this does not do justice to the true extent of the crisis in language learning, which runs through all parts of the education system. To appreciate the full scale of the problem, you have to dig deeper into the numbers. As we approach Brexit and the readjustment of the UK’s relationship with the rest of the world, we would do well to take this seriously.


Related Links

Anne McElvoy: ‘Open Britain’ needs to have more masters of language (Evening Standard, 19 August 2017)

Number of language GCSEs plummets as academics warn students are relying on Google Translate

24 August 2017 (The Telegraph)

The number of students taking modern foreign languages has plummeted because British children are have become reliant on English translations and tools like “Google Translate,” academics have warned.

Figures published on Thursday by the Joint Qualifications Council (JCQ) show that the number of entries for modern foreign languages has fallen by more than 7 per cent per cent overall, with the number of French exams falling by a tenth and German by 13.2 per cent.

Similar declines were recorded in last week's A-level results, whilst the number of British students taking languages has almost halved over the last two decades.


EBacc failing to reverse decline in language learning, cautions British Academy

24 August 2017 (British Academy)

The British Academy has warned that the English Baccalaureate is failing to halt the decline in young people studying languages at GCSE.

The number of students taking GCSEs, A-levels and university degrees in languages has been falling steadily for many years, due in part to the government’s unfortunate decision in 2004 to make languages optional at Key Stage 4.

The English Baccalaureate (EBacc) recognises pupils who pass five core academic subjects at GCSE, including a modern or ancient language. It was hoped that the EBacc would reverse the decline in language-learning, but this year’s data suggests that the initial positive effect appears to be wearing off.

The fall in students choosing languages at GCSE in 2017 is particularly evident in European languages: entries for German are down by 12%, French by 10% and Spanish by 3%, compared to last year.

The British Academy is deeply concerned that this year’s decline will further erode the numbers of young people studying languages to a higher level, with knock-on effects for the UK as a whole.


Related Links

Learning a foreign language is about more than getting by abroad (British Academy blog, 23 August 2017)

A-level results 2017: Decline in entries for arts and languages 'makes mockery of social mobility claims'

17 August 2017 (TES)

Heads' union warns of the consequences of a drop in entries for creative subjects and languages, as the number of students sitting music plummets by 9.4 per cent.

A decline in A-level entries for music, drama, French and German is "making a mockery of the government's claim to be promoting social mobility", a heads' union has said.

The Association of School and College Leaders said that schools are having to cut courses in these subjects because the relatively small number of candidates signing up to them means they are no longer financially viable.

The number of A-level entries in England dropped by 1.2 per cent in French compared with last year, 4.2 per cent in German, 4 per cent in drama and by 9.4 per cent in music, according to figures from the Joint Council for Qualifications.

The ASCL said schools cutting back on these subjects was a reflection of "severe budget pressures" on post-16 education, which has experienced a real-terms cut since 2010.

Given the 42 per cent drop in AS-level entries after they were "decoupled" from A levels, ASCL said it was concerned about a narrowing of the curriculum, which was "reducing student choice".


Number of top grades awarded in language A-levels increases amid decline in students taking French and German

17 August 2017 (The Telegraph)

Changes to A-level language subjects to prevent non-native speakers from being penalised has led to a surge in top grades, figures published today suggest.

The proportion of A grades awarded in French, German and Spanish entries increased this year, after the exams regulator Ofqual asked exam boards to lower the grade boundaries.

Publication of the new guidance has seen the number of A grades awarded in French rise to 39 per cent, up from 37.3 per cent, whilst top grades in German has risen by 1.8 per cent.

The changes, outlined in a letter circulated among headteachers by Ofqual earlier this summer, said: "We have recently published research on the effect of native speakers in A-level French, German and Spanish.

"The evidence is not conclusive, but it does suggest that the proportion of native speakers taking these qualifications may have increased in recent years, as the overall entry has declined.

"Informed by this research, we believe there is a case for making a small upward adjustment to the predictions used to set grade A, and we will implement this for the summer 2017 A-levels."

The changes, outlined in a letter circulated among headteachers by Ofqual earlier this summer, said: "We have recently published research on the effect of native speakers in A-level French, German and Spanish.

"The evidence is not conclusive, but it does suggest that the proportion of native speakers taking these qualifications may have increased in recent years, as the overall entry has declined.

"Informed by this research, we believe there is a case for making a small upward adjustment to the predictions used to set grade A, and we will implement this for the summer 2017 A-levels."

However, the increase in top grades has been overshadowed by continuing drop-off in students taking up in traditionally popular modern languages, with the exception of Spanish, which saw entries increase by 1.7 per cent.

International languages are also gaining in popularity, including Arabic, Chinese and Italian.


Related Links

A-Level and AS results published by JCQ (UCML, 17 August 2017) Overall, results show that entries for both Spanish and Other languages continue to grow (with an increase of 1.7 and 2% on last year's figures respectively). Article links to comprehensive data for all languages.

Languages under pressure after fall in pupils taking German and French

9 August 2017 (The Herald)

THE number of pupils choosing key modern languages has fallen sharply.

Figures from the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) show the number of entries for Higher French dropped from 4,581 in 2016 to 3,918 this year.

The figures for German have also fallen, with entries declining from 1,019 to 890 year-on-year.

However, the increasing popularity of Spanish has continued, with entries rising from 2,600 last year to 2,809.

Entries at the lower National 5 level for French and German have also fallen.


Related Links

'Disappointing' decline in pupils sitting Gaelic qualifications (The Herald, 10 August 2017)

Scottish MSPs warn of narrow curriculum as uptake of creative subjects declines

8 August 2017 (The Guardian)

The number of Scottish school pupils and students taking modern languages, social sciences and arts has fallen, prompting warnings from opposition parties over the dangers of a narrowing curriculum.

Official data showed the number of exam passes at Higher, a near equivalent to English A-levels, across Scotland’s schools and colleges held steady at 77%, falling very slightly by 0.2%.

But Labour and the Conservatives expressed concern that the Scottish curriculum was narrowing after the Scottish Qualifications Authority figures showed the numbers sitting modern languages at Higher fell by 6% overall, with history down by nearly 4% and geography by 2.6%.


Slump in foreign language students sparks fear for UK competitiveness

5 August 2017 (The Herald)

FRESH concerns have been raised that not enough youngsters are learning foreign languages, as figures show a slump in applications to study the subject at university.

The numbers of applications for degree courses linked to European languages have fallen by almost a quarter in the past five years, while the numbers for other language courses have dropped by almost a fifth, according to an analysis by the Press Association. At the same time, there has been a decline in the numbers studying languages traditionally offered by schools, such as French and German, to GCSE and A-level.

The analysis indicates Spanish has grown in popularity in recent times along with other courses, such as Arabic and Chinese.

The British Council, which specialises in international cultural relations, warned that if the UK is to remain globally competitive in the wake of Brexit it needs more young people to be learning languages.


‘Worrying’ fall in pupils taking foreign languages

31 July 2017 (The Scotsman)

Scotland has seen a “worry-
ing” fall in the number of pupils studying languages, it has emerged.

There are now fears that the next generation will not be equipped to deal with the demands of the global 

There has been a dramatic fall in the number of 
youngsters sitting French and German, although more are learning Spanish.

Opposition parties called on the SNP to focus on the “day job” of running schools. But ministers insist there has been a rise in the number of pupils gaining languages qualification at Higher level.

There were more than 56,000 pupils taking modern languages at Standard Grade level a decade ago. By last year, under the new exam system, this had fallen to just over 23,000 – a 59 per cent decline.

Labour’s shadow education minister Daniel Johnson said: “Learning a foreign language is such a valuable skill for 
Scotland’s next generation.

“Whether for travel, employment or just breaking down barriers between people from different countries, a new 
language can open up the world to a young person.

“It is therefore incredibly worrying to see such a huge decline in the number of pupils sitting modern language courses. The SNP talks about connecting Scotland with the world, but that can only happen if people are equipped with the 
languages they need. In the 21st century, the workforce is becoming more global and economic growth here in Scotland depends on interaction with our European neighbours.

“We need to reduce as many barriers to economic growth as possible, and these figures show how important it is for SNP ministers to get back to the day job of improving 
standards in our schools.”


Related Links

Dramatic decline in number of pupils learning foreign languages (The Times, 31 July 2017)

Scots pupils saying ‘Non’ to languages (Sunday Post, 30 July 2017)

Teachers in Wales 'worried' about future of foreign languages

2 July 2017 (BBC)

Teachers in Wales are "extremely worried" about the future of foreign languages in the country, according to a British Council survey.

It found more than a third of Welsh schools now have less than 10% of Year 10 pupils studying a modern foreign language.

British Council Wales said prospects remained "extremely challenging".

The Welsh Government said its action plan to improve take-up of languages was already under way.

Other findings of the survey included:
  • 44% of schools have fewer than five pupils studying a foreign language at AS level
  • 61% of schools have fewer than five foreign language pupils at A-level
  • 64% of modern foreign language departments have just one or two full-time teachers, with one third depend on non-British EU nationals for their staff
Between 2002 and 2016, the number of pupils studying a foreign language to GCSE level has fallen by 48% to 6,891 pupils last year.

At A-level, numbers have fallen by 44% since 2001.

The report said the outlook for foreign languages looked "even more fragile in the context of financial pressures on schools and the potential impact of leaving the European Union".


MFL teacher challenge looms

21 June 2017 (Sec Ed)

The recruitment of more suitably qualified languages teachers is “likely to become more critical” because of the need to increase up-take at GCSE.

The annual Languages Trends report warns that schools are finding it “challenging” to recruit language teachers who are able to offer two languages to GCSE and A level standard.

The report states: “This difficulty most affects lower-attaining schools and those working in more disadvantaged circumstances.” Language GCSEs form part of the EBacc and Progress 8 accountability measures and as such schools are incentivised to increase uptake.

However, recruitment has proved challenging for some schools, including for language positions.

Recent research by the NFER has shown that schools are seeing particularly high leaving rates for teachers of maths, science and languages. The recruitment target for trainee language teachers was also missed this year, according to Department for Education figures published in November.

Meanwhile, figures released by Ofqual this week (see story above) show that entries for GCSE languages this year are down on 2016. This includes:

French (Down from 135,200 to 121,800).
German (Down from 48,000 to 42,050).
Spanish (Down from 88,150 to 85,500).
Other MFL (Down from 33,900 to 33,000).

However, the Languages Trends report, which is published by the British Council, says that 38 per cent of state schools plan to increase language GCSE entries year-on-year.


Languages and IT staff are ‘leaving and won’t return’

10 March 2017 (TESS)

Brexit will “impoverish” pupils’ education by driving away staff, removing opportunities to study abroad and diminishing language teaching, independent schools are warning.

John Edward, director of the Scottish Council of Independent Schools (SCIS), told TESS that teachers of modern languages and IT were leaving the UK “and not coming back”.

Mr Edward predicted that the departures would mount steadily in the next three to four years and have a “big impact” on Scottish schools.

The full article can be accessed via TESS online, 10 March 2017 (subscription required).


Speaking in tongues: how to save modern languages?

22 February 2017 (THE)

Matthew Reisz reflects on the role of universities in overcoming monolingualism.


Time to listen to teens on language learning

21 February 2017 (Scholastic blog)

For far too long it seems that media columns have been filled with reports of declining interest of British teenagers in modern foreign languages (MFL).

Take the figures published last summer. The number of children studying French to A-level has fallen by around 50 per cent in eight years to fewer than 10,000. Only around 3,800 youngsters took German. There was also a fall in those studying Spanish, which had previously bucked the anti-languages drift.

The government replied that it has been encouraging pupils to take languages, mainly through the English Baccalaureate – the wrap-around qualification which requires pupils to sit a range of certain GCSEs including a language.

But the problems don’t end there. More university language departments are facing closure if student recruitment continues to decline, and the key problem facing language courses is the drop in the number of students sitting the relevant A-levels that are required for entry. And there is a shortage of MFL teachers.

This ought to worry us – even more so as we head towards Brexit. It has been estimated by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Modern Languages that our failure to communicate in anything other than English costs Britain up to £50 billion a year in lost trade. Declining numbers of MFL students have led to calls for a joined up strategy where the full contribution of languages to the economy and society is realised, with the National Association of Head Teachers particularly vocal.


Why making languages non-compulsory at GCSE is a step backwards

17 January 2017 (The Telegraph)

I am nervous as I take my seat in front of the Head of Languages; it is GCSE choices evening and the school gym has been transformed, criss-crossed by rows of tables and chairs with eager parents and their offspring gathered around harried-looking teachers.

“I'd like to do Triple Language,” I say, “French, Spanish and Italian.”

She regards me over the top of her sheet full of names, in front of her.

“Oh no, I don't think so. You could do Spanish, maybe, but you'll find three too difficult.”

Seven years later and I am on the brink of successfully completing my undergraduate degree in, you guessed it, languages. And whilst I look back on that exchange now with a certain degree of victorious pride, I still can't help but wonder what prompted her to turn a perfectly capable student away from her course.

In this performance-obsessed climate where a pupil's grades are often put before their education, it is unsurprising that even some of the best teachers find themselves advising students against courses which are deemed too challenging. But we must do away with the notion that languages are an elite subject if we are to improve the dire situation in which we now find ourselves.


School languages fear as teacher numbers plummet

13 January 2017 (The Herald)

The number of language teachers in Scottish secondary schools has fallen by more than two hundred since 2010, according to new figures.

Official statistics from the Scottish Government show there were 1,635 language teachers in 2010 compared to just 1,402 in 2016 - a decline of 15 per cent.

The decline comes at a time when there are significant fears over the future of languages with a long-term fall in the number of pupils sitting exams such as French, German and Italian - although Spanish is still proving popular.

Tavish Scott, education spokesman for the Scottish Liberal Democrats, who asked for the figures, called on ministers to explain the falling number.

He said: “It’s extremely disappointing to see such a dramatic fall in the number of secondary school language teachers since 2010.

“Language teaching in schools have been highlighted as a government priority yet the government’s own figures show there are fewer teachers than before, setting language students up for failure.

“If the Scottish Government is serious about getting pupils learning languages then they need to ensure every school has the resources to provide a quality language education.”

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Association of Language Teaching (SALT) blamed changes to the curriculum for the “hugely concerning” fall.


Pedagogy review offers help to revitalise languages education

23 November 2016 (SecEd)

Modern foreign languages are “at risk” and face becoming the domain of “certain types of school and certain sections of the pupil population”.

The warning has come from Ian Bauckham, chair of the Modern Foreign Languages Pedagogy Review, which published its report into MFL teaching at key stages 3 and 4 this week.

The Teaching Schools Council, which set-up the Review, is now encouraging schools to use the findings, alongside related evaluation documentation, to review and improve their MFL provision.


The top 100 universities in the world for employability revealed

21 November 2016 (The Independent)

Cambridge, Oxford, Imperial College London, King’s College London and the University of Manchester all ranked highly in terms of graduate employability.

[..] Taking into consideration opinions from 2,500 recruitment managers from international companies in 20 countries around the world, researchers named “professional experience” as the most important factor when predicting a graduate’s employability.

A high degree of specialism, and proficiency in at least two foreign languages were also hailed as important skills favoured by recruiters.

Responding to the results, Vicky Gough, a spokesperson for the British Council, said: “Despite languages being valued by employers the world over – as this latest ranking shows – the UK is currently facing a shortfall in these vital skills."


Capable linguists put off by ‘ridiculous’ grade boundary

18 November 2016 (TESS)

Grade boundaries set at “ridiculous” levels are driving pupils away from languages and leaving talented linguists with lower results than they deserve, it has been claimed.

Languages teachers fear their subjects – which are already suffering from falling numbers – will be sidelined further as they gain a reputation among pupils as “hard” options that could put their university places at risk.

Of the 30 most popular Highers, German and French set the bar highest for an A grade (78 per cent and 77 per cent, respectively); Spanish is also above most subjects, with 73 per cent required for an A.

Gillian Campbell-Thow, chair of the Scottish Association for Language Teaching (Salt), said: “Learners who were expecting to get an A, having had high marks all year, were of course disappointed. For some, it impacted on their access to further and higher education.”

As TESS has reported, the situation for modern languages has already been described as “near critical” this year because of a decrease in pupils taking the subjects at S4.

Ms Campbell-Thow said that, at Higher, “we are now seeing learners opting for subjects where they feel they are more likely to get an A”.

Languages teachers are also reportedly narrowing their focus. Ms Campbell-Thow said that one Salt member “felt she had to take out a lot of the creative content…in favour of teaching to a test, which flies in the face of Curriculum for Excellence”.

She added: “We don’t want to find ourselves teaching to an exam, using rote learning and effectively putting a ceiling on skills development and language acquisition, but the worry of letting down learners and parents…has left our practitioners feeling both vulnerable and under pressure.”

The full article can be accessed on TESS online, 18 November 2016 (subscription required).


By the numbers: the decline of specialist subjects

4 November 2016 (TESS)

Although archaeology is going to be withdrawn as an A-level option, there are other subjects that attract far fewer students.

[..] In Scotland, the lowest number of entries for a subject at Higher was for Gaelic as a foreign language, with 84, while 92 students took Urdu.

The full list of lowest entry A Levels / Highers is available in TESS online, 4 November 2016 (subscription required).


A-levels choice 'reduced by funding squeeze'

27 October 2016 (BBC News)

Funding pressures mean pupils at sixth-form colleges in England must choose from an increasingly narrow range of A-level subjects, a study has found.

The Sixth Form Colleges Association's annual survey suggests two-thirds of colleges have had to drop courses.

[..] Over a third of colleges (39%) have dropped courses in modern foreign languages...


Students are going into schools in Wales to address the alarming drop in people learning languages

12 October 2016 (Wales Online)

Learning a modern foreign language helps you make friends and get jobs, teenagers in Welsh secondary schools are being told by students.

Undergraduates are being brought in to tackle a huge drop in numbers learning languages like French, German and Spanish.

Between 2002 and 2015 numbers of pupils taking at least one modern foreign language at GCSE fell by 44%.

Entries for French are now less than half (47%) of what they were in 2002 and German entries are only about a third (36%) of those recorded in 2002.

Now a student mentoring scheme, funded by the Welsh Government to stem the fall, has increased the schools it works in from 28 to 44 in its second year.


Harsh grading blamed for decline in students sitting modern foreign languages

4 October 2016 (AOL)

Harsh grading is resulting in a decline in the number of students sitting modern foreign languages, with native speakers performing less well than those whose mother tongue is English, it has been claimed.

Independent school headteachers said students sitting Spanish, French and German from GCSE through to A-level had been marked more heavily for the last decade, compared with other subjects.

Members of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference (HMC) said poor exam results were "sapping (students') confidence", while entries in A-level Spanish, German and French are all down on the previous year, by 2.7%, 4.2% and 6.4%, respectively.

James Priory, headteacher at Portsmouth Grammar School, said: "We have seen unpredictable language results this year. A number of students predicted B grades, for instance, have received grades below expectation, with the result that they are no longer set on studying languages at university.


GCSE results: Computing entries rocket 76 per cent as languages and creative subjects plummet

25 August 2016 (TES)

The number of pupils taking GCSEs in computing rose by 76 per cent this year, in the wake of the government’s decision to count it towards the crucial Progress 8 accountability measure.

[..] Meanwhile, languages entries are declining despite the government’s decision to include modern foreign languages in the EBacc performance measure. Entries in Spanish rose slightly but those in French fell by 8.1 per cent.


Related Links

GCSE results day 2016: Girls' grades predicted to be 'a long way ahead' of boys (The Independent, 25 August 2016)

GCSEs 2016 - a user's guide (BBC News, 25 August 2016)

What subjects did students do best and worst in on GCSE Results Day? (The Telegraph, 25 August 2016)

GCSE results: Why have grades dropped? (TES, 25 August 2016) - item contains graphic on languages decline.

GCSE results 2016: German (Schools Week, 25 August 2016) - German GCSE results for 2016 compared to previous years.

Foreign languages A-level slump blamed on cuts

18 August 2016 (BBC News)

A sharp decline in entries to modern foreign language A-levels has been blamed by head teachers on severe funding pressures.

Entries to A-levels in French have dropped by 6.4% from last year, in German by 4.2% and in Spanish by 2.7%.

Malcolm Trobe of the ASCL heads' union said schools and colleges were finding it hard to run courses with small pupil numbers, due to funding shortages.

The government replied that it had been encouraging pupils to take languages.

This is mainly through the English Baccalaureate - the wrap-around qualification which requires pupils to sit a range of certain GCSES including a language.


Related Links

A level results 2016: Which subjects did students do the best and worst in? (The Telegraph, 18 August 2016) - despite a decline in numbers taking foreign languages, more than a third of students taking German and French achieved an A or A* this year.

A-level results: Squeezed budgets cutting AS-level choice and language entries, heads warn (TES, 18 August 2016)

Pupils shun English and physics A-levels as numbers with highest grades fall (The Guardian, 19 August 2016) [..] But it was the steep decline in entries for French, down by 6.5% on the year, as well as German and Spanish, that set off alarm bells over the poor state of language teaching and take-up in Britain’s schools.

A-level results show that standards remain high, but languages are a cause for concern (The Independent, 18 August 2016)

Number of pupils taking languages at record low (The Times, 19 August 2016)

ALL Statement on A Level results 2016 (ALL, 18 August 2016)

British Academy responds to A-Level results (British Academy, 18 August 2016)

University language departments 'at risk' as recruitment slumps (THE, 19 August 2016)

Don't leave languages behind when Britain leaves the EU

5 August 2016 (TESS)

We'd be unwise to neglect European MFL post-Brexit. Heather Martin explains why.

Read the full article in TESS online, 5 August 2016, pages 36-37 (subscription required).


Boosting foreign language GCSE entries is not the way to improve our country’s language skills – but there is a better way, insists David Harbourne

27 July 2016 (Schools Week)

The Schools Minister, Nick Gibb, wants 90% of 16-year-olds to take a foreign language GCSE.

In a recent House of Commons debate on the EBacc, he said this is necessary because “some 77% of employers say that they need more employees with foreign languages”. I take the figure with a pinch of salt, because this would mean over 3.8 million employers are clamouring for better language skills – frankly, I don’t believe it.

Nevertheless, I am instinctively in favour of languages for all. I did French O-level at school and scraped a pass. I learned French properly when I had the chance to live and work in Paris, and became a convert to the cause.

However, I’m emphatically not in favour of Nick Gibb’s crude target.


‘How will we fare in post-Brexit trade negotiations if no one has studied MFL?’

2 June 2016 (TES)

There are few things so depressing about the current schools system as the precipitous decline in languages, writes this veteran education journalist.

If one thing that has saddened me over the past couple of weeks, it is that modern foreign languages has been the first core subject to be axed by a major exam board.

For at least two decades I have campaigned, cajoled and done what I can to persuade the powers that be to do more to promote languages in schools.


Schools say au revoir to languages, while universities proclaim Guten Tag

31 May 2016 (The Guardian)

Universities are offering languages such as French and German from scratch to counteract the decline of modern foreign languages at A-level.


'Urgent action' needed over decline in language learning, Cambridge University warns

24 May 2016 (TES)

The University of Cambridge is calling for a major rethink of the government’s approach to language learning, arguing that it should not be the responsibility of the Department for Education alone.

A report from the university, published today, says the UK is struggling with a “skills deficit” on foreign languages that has “wide-reaching economic, political and military effects”. The university is calling for “urgent action” from the whole of government to tackle the issue.

The publication follows TES' report last week that the OCR exam board, which is owned by the university, was to stop providing GCSEs and A levels in French, Spanish and German.


‘The British disease of not trusting “foreign” has infected students deciding against taking languages’

22 May 2016 (TES)

The collapse of MFL uptake will not be solved by any reconfiguring of the education system. It’s a way more ingrained problem than that, writes one leading headteacher.


Tongue-tied: Britain has forgotten how to speak to its European neighbours

15 March 2016 (The Conversation)

The decline in the number of students of modern languages from GCSE to degree level is an annual lament. Only 10,328 pupils in the UK took French at A Level in 2015 and although Spanish enjoyed a rise in entries at A Level of 14%, German continued its steady decline.

As Vicky Gough, schools adviser at the British Council, noted last year, the study of French and German at A Level has declined by more than 50% since 1999.

Similar patterns can be observed at GCSE where entries for French, for example, declined by 40% between 2005 and 2015. The rise in interest in Arabic and Portuguese has not offset the overall trend towards the marginalisation of language learning in Britain’s secondary schools, and most notably those in the state sector.


Poor language skills and strategies contributing to UK record trade deficit

10 February 2016 (ATC)

Britain's poor language skills and strategies are contributing to the record £125 billion UK trade deficit, according to the Association of Translation Companies.

Commenting on the figures released by the Office for National Statistics, Geoffrey Bowden, General Secretary for the Association of Translation Companies (ATC) comments: “As an organisation whose members are focused on helping UK companies from all sectors maximise international trade opportunities, we are concerned to see a reduction in the value of UK exports for December 2015.

“Recent research shows that poor language skills are costing the UK economy £48 billion a year in lost export sales and that organisations which have made the conscious decision to invest in professional language services achieve a far higher export to turnover ratio."


The long adieu: how Britain gave up learning French

22 January 2016 (The Guardian)

Is it important that more people speak English? Only this week, David Cameron launched a new scheme encouraging more Muslim women to learn the language, one argument being that the inability of many to do so weakens their voice , and in doing so strengthens radicalisation.

[...] I'm much more worried about the number of people learning the other historic language of England; the language used at the first parliament, spoken at Runnymede in 1215, a language that still features in much of our legal system and which, until 1858, was the only one on British passports: French.


Scottish curriculum narrows and attainment drops under new regime

12 January 2016 (TESS)

The number of qualifications being pursued by Scottish pupils – particularly those of lower ability – has dropped sharply since the new curriculum and qualifications were introduced, as has attainment, new research shows.

The situation for modern languages was “near critical” because of the drop in pupils enrolling for these subjects in S4, according to Dr Jim Scott from the University of Dundee.


Northumbria University the latest to draw back on language provision

22 October 2015 (THE)

Further fears have been raised that language courses in the UK are becoming the preserve of the most selective universities after Northumbria University became the latest institution to draw back from provision.

Following a “languages review”, Northumbria announced last month that its “BA French and Spanish will be closed, there will be no further recruitment to this programme”.

A spokesman for the university told Times Higher Education that the move was one of various changes “to the way we deliver language learning” in response to “a fall in demand across the sector over the past 10 years”. Nevertheless, he added, the university “remain[ed] committed to the teaching of foreign languages”, for example through joint programmes and as part of its international business management degree.

The decision to close the French and Spanish BA went ahead despite a petition by alumni and interventions from embassies and academics across the world. The students’ union also strongly criticised plans to “abolish our only standalone foreign language programme”, which had “average[d] above 95 per cent over the past five years in the National Student Survey”.


German could face 'extinction in schools', heads warn

7 October 2015 (The Telegraph)

Applies to England

German could face extinction in the classroom as renewed worries emerge over inconsistencies in grading following reforms that were meant to tackle the issue, leading head teachers have said.

The warning emerged as school leaders said they are even writing to admission offices at leading universities to let it be known that they no longer have confidence in the grading system, which is seeing some top students unable to achieve top grades.

They warned of a "crisis in modern foreign languages" - particularly German - as new figures show that inconsistencies in grading seemed to have become more pronounced than ever this year.


Only a change in the national mindset will save language learning

29 September 2015 (The Guardian)

Many people will have read the recent reports that fewer young people in this country are learning foreign languages. The numbers continue to fall at GCSE and A-level, and many schools are phasing out unpopular languages or ones that teaching staff have less expertise in.

This has affected university language departments, many of which have had to economise by merging or closing faculties. As a knock-on effect, it’s become increasingly difficult to appoint new language teachers because good linguists are in such short supply. This will, no doubt, provide state schools with a major challenge as English Baccalaureates (Ebaccs) – where the study of a language is required – are introduced. It’s a matter that the Department for Education (DfE) is looking into.


Ulster University to close school of modern languages

2 September 2015 (THE)

Ulster University has confirmed the closure of its school of modern languages while identifying another four subject areas for “rationalisation”.

[..] Robin Swann, an Ulster Unionist member of the Northern Ireland Assembly and the chair of its employment and learning committee, said that the closure of the modern languages department would be particularly damaging.


Related Links

Minister slated as Ulster University forced to cut language school (Belfast Telegraph, 3 September 2015)

Exporter slams UU decision to close languages school (Belfast Telegraph, 9 September 2015)

GCSE results: figures show slump in foreign languages and rise in computing

20 August 2015 (The Guardian)

Fewer entries for GCSE French, German and Spanish, though grades for languages have improved.


Related Links

Drop in take-up of foreign languages prompts concerns of UK's ability to trade globally (The Independent, 20 August 2015)

GCSE results: fall in numbers taking foreign languages 'a cause for concern' (The Guardian, 20 August 2015)

Why has there been a drop in students taking language GCSEs? Teachers' views (The Guardian, 20 August 2015)

GCSE results: Language entries drop for second year running (TES, 20 August 2015)

GCSE exam results: The top 10 best performing GCSEs of 2015 (The Independent, 20 August 2015) 'Other Modern Languages' in second place.

GCSE Results Day 2015 live: top grades drop for fourth year in a row following efforts to fight grade inflation (The Telegraph live blog, 20 August 2015) [..] 10.20 Figures from today reveal an overall drop in the number of entries to modern foreign language exams. 

GCSE results 2015: pass rate rises but A* grades dip (The Guardian, 20 August 2015)
[..]Modern languages French, Spanish and German all saw falling entries, with the numbers taking German this year dropping by nearly 10%. 
GCSE results remain stable but major concerns emerge over top grades in maths (TES, 20 August 2015) [..] The number of students taking language GCSEs fell for a -second consecutive year, despite the subjects being included in the government’s English Baccalaureate (Ebac) performance measure.

CBI responds to 2015 GCSE results (CBI, 20 August 2015) On languages, Ms. Hall said...

British Council comments on GCSE languages 2015 (British Council, 20 August 2015)

EBacc effect wearing off on GCSE languages (Alcantara Communications, 20 August 2015)

GCSE exam results for languages (UCML, 20 August 2015)

Speak to the Future calls for Head Teachers to implement the EBacc and support an outward-facing Britain with an outward-facing curriculum, which includes languages (Speak to the Future, 20 August 2015)

British Council comments on A-Level languages 2015

13 August 2015 (British Council)

The 2015 A-Level entry figures show low numbers of students taking language exams, with a 1% drop in the number of French exams and a 4.25% drop in German. Spanish is the exception with a 14% rise in entries.

Commenting on the figures, Vicky Gough, Schools Adviser at the British Council, said:
"Despite languages being crucial for life and work in an increasingly connected world, A-Level entry figures remain disappointingly low for yet another year.”


Related Links

British Council Wales comments on language A-Levels (British Council Wales, 13 August 2015)

Latest figures for languages at A level (Alcantara Communications, 13 August 2015)

Mixed messages from today’s A level results for languages (Speak to the Future, 13 August 2015)

Analysis of A and AS results in Languages in the UK (UCML, 13 August 2015)

Science and language subjects suffer decline as A-level choices shift (The Guardian, 13 August 2015)

A level results 2015: Which subjects did students do the best and worst in? (13 August 2015)

Summer 2015 AS and A level results: a brief explanation (

Modern Foreign Languages Entries 2014-15 (Joint Council for Qualifications)

A & AS Level results 2015 (Association for Language Learning, 14 August 2015)

British Academy comments on A Level results (British Academy, 14 August 2015)

Too few students are doing languages, say firms

12 August 2015 (Irish Independent)

Many multinational and domestic companies have jobs they cannot fill because of a lack of candidates with the necessary language skills.

Fewer than half - 49pc - of this year's candidates took French, while those taking German stood at just 13.2pc. Meanwhile, only about 10pc of candidates sat Spanish, one of the most widely spoken languages in the world.

Ibec's head of education policy, Tony Donohoe, said that student interest in languages had declined when compared with a decade ago. He warned that it was "vital that we don't find ourselves at a competitive disadvantage when it comes to selling into global markets and attracting foreign investment".


A-levels and GCSEs: Tougher subjects on the rise as teens look to enter elite universities

5 August 2015 (The Telegraph)

(Applies to England) The number of pupils taking tough subjects at GCSE and A-levels, like maths and science, rose this summer as students regard them as “very good currency” to get into elite universities, the exams regulator has said.

[..] Dr Wendy Piatt, director general of the Russell Group, said: “The increase in the number of students taking facilitating subjects at A-level is welcome news. These subjects are required more often than others for degree courses at our universities.

[..]“We are concerned that a further fall in the number of students studying foreign languages at GCSE is concerning – languages are vitally important to the UK if it is to be fully engaged with the world.”


Scottish Labour warning over modern languages decline

4 June 2015 (BBC News)

Labour has raised concerns about a drop in the number of students gaining a qualification in modern languages including French, German and Chinese.

At First Minister's Questions, Labour leader Kezia Dugdale also highlighted a drop in the number achieving a qualification in Gaelic.

Research by Strathclyde University, draws attention to a long-term decline in the number achieving a qualification in French or German.

In 1996, around 40,000 got a Standard Grade pass in French at either foundation, general or credit level.

By 2011, the number was down to about 30,000 and in 2014 it fell to below 20,000.

The number studying German roughly halved over the same period and also dropped significantly in 2014.

Such a drop inevitably prompts important questions and will concern some: a qualification in a language can be an important step towards achieving fluency in it and nobody disputes the importance of fluency in second or third languages to the development of a skilled workforce.


Related Links

First Minister's Question Time (Scottish Parliament, 4 June 2015)

Modern Languages in Scotland: Learner Uptake and Attainment 1996-2014 (Scottish Languages Review: James Scott article, June 2015) 

Is it 'back to school' for modern languages?

2 June 2015 (The Telegraph)

We really need to reverse the downward trend in language learning and recognise that languages aren’t a waste of time, says Mark Herbert.

'Parlez-vous English?' – a phrase more British school pupils will be uttering, not just in French but in all foreign languages, if recent evidence is anything to by.

The summer 2015 exam entries for England have just been released and, sadly, the picture isn’t a particularly pretty one for language fans.

Entries for modern languages have fallen for yet another year at both GCSE and A-level. While some increases in Level 1/2 Certificates, which test skills below GCSE level, may partly explain the decrease in GCSE uptake, the figures on the whole are largely disappointing. They are also, regrettably, nothing new.


Language Trends Wales 2015

2 June 2015 (CfBT)

The latest research into foreign language learning in Welsh schools by CfBT and the British Council shows a significant decline.

Report's main findings:

  • Modern foreign languages are becoming increasingly marginalised within the Welsh curriculum 
  • Many pupils are receiving only a minimal or fragmented experience of language learning 
  • The potential benefits of bilingualism in Wales are not being realised when it comes to learning a modern foreign language 
  • In the ten-year period from 2005-2014 A-level entries for French, German and Spanish halved 
  • Only 22% of Welsh pupils take a GCSE in a language other than Welsh or English

The first national survey of modern foreign language (MFL) teaching in Welsh secondary schools has found that foreign language learning is becoming increasingly marginalised within the Welsh curriculum, with the number of pupils choosing to study foreign languages in decline.

The Language trends Wales report, commissioned by CfBT Education Trust and the British Council, highlights the decline of modern foreign language learning in Welsh schools. This is despite the advantage bilingual Wales should have in learning other languages, with experts agreeing that already having two languages makes learning a third easier.

Language trends Wales states that in today's globalised world only 22% of Welsh pupils take a GCSE in a language other than English or Welsh.


Related Links

Language Trends Wales (British Council, 2 June 2015) - article includes link to download the Language Trends Wales 2015 report.

Wales: bilingualism untapped in further language-learning (British Council Voices, 2 June 2015)

Foreign language learning 'declining rapidly' in Wales (BBC News, 2 June 2015)

Morning Call (Radio Wales, 2 June 2015) - topic introduction: listen from 01:10 and main feature from 07:15 (available on iPlayer until 1 July 2015)

Foreign languages becoming 'increasingly marginalised' and 'financially unviable' in Welsh schools, report warns (Wales Online, 2 June 2015)

‘Significant’ decline in foreign language learning in Wales (The Financial, 3 June 2015)

University modern language courses easier to get on than five years ago

8 May 2015 (The Guardian)

A student’s chances of getting into a leading university to study languages have increased in the past five years, as interest dwindles and applications plummet, new figures suggest.

At Cambridge University, applications to study European languages dropped from 580 in 2010 to 385 in 2014, meaning students now have a 44.2% chance of getting a place compared with 28.4% in 2010.

At King’s College London there were 1,165 applications and 150 acceptances in 2010, an acceptance rate of 12.9%. In 2014 there were 575 applications and 125 acceptances, taking the rate up to to 21.7%.

There is growing concerns among academics, politicians and business leaders about the decline in modern languages in England’s schools and universities, and fears that more courses in sixth forms and higher education institutions will be forced to close.


Private schools suffer 'more severe' decline in languages than state sector

28 April 2015 (TES)

Independent schools are suffering from a decline in language learning that is “more severe” than that in the state sector, a leading public school languages director has said.

Nick Mair, director of languages at Dulwich College and chair of the Independent Schools’ Modern Languages Association (ISMLA), told a conference today that the rising importance of STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths) had marginalised foreign languages.

“You all think it’s hunky dory in the ivory tower…[but] it isn’t,” he said, adding that the number of private school pupils taking A-level French fell 10 per cent last year, higher than the national average, and the number taking German fell 9 per cent.

“[If] you think it’s all OK in independent schools, it simply is not,” he said. “It’s simply that the starting point is higher, but the decline is either more severe than, or as severe as, that in state schools.”

Speaking at a Westminster Education Forum debate in London, Mr Mair said this was because “every senior management [team] is banging the STEM drum”. Pointing to a newspaper article that described a “war against humanities”, he said he believed this phrase to be accurate.

Teresa Tinsley, author of the Language Trends survey which was published last month, said figures covering both independent and state schools showed there had been a decline in GCSE French and Spanish entries and a “steep decline” in entries for German and French A-levels.


Tongue Tied

7 April 2015 (RT London)

Watch British Council's Vicky Gough and lead researcher Bernadette Holmes from Born Global in this RT news piece on native English speakers being the worst language learners in Europe.

More information about the Born Global project can be found on the British Academy website via the related link below.


Related Links

Born Global: Rethinking Language Policy for 21at Century Britain (British Academy, 2014) A new policy research project into the extent and nature of language needs in the labour market and the implications for language education from school to higher education.

Primary Modern Languages Programme stopped in Northern Ireland

31 March 2015 (BBC News)

Tuesday was the final day of funding for the foreign languages programme for primary schools.
The Primary Modern Languages Programme has been scrapped as part of Department of Education's cuts for the new financial year.

Four hundred and thirteen schools in Northern Ireland have had staff come in to teach Spanish, Irish or Polish. Eighty-six teachers are employed under the scheme, most working in a handful of schools for a few hours at a time.

The Department of Education said the decision was regrettable but necessary, given the budget cuts they are facing and the fact that the scheme cost £900,000 a year.


'Difficult climate' for language teaching, study finds

18 March 2015 (BBC News)

(Applies to England) Language teaching is facing a "difficult climate" in England's schools, researchers say.

A report by the CfBT Education Trust and the British Council highlights low uptakes of language GCSEs and A-levels as particular concerns. It found that language teachers felt attracting pupils to study languages after the age of 16 was a "challenge".

The Department for Education said the number of pupils taking languages at GCSE was increasing.

This year's Language Trends Survey is the 13th annual research exercise to measure the condition of language teaching and learning in schools in England.


Fewer pupils learning German ‘risks Scots economy’

18 March 2015 (The Scotsman)

A decline in the number of pupils learning to speak German could impact negatively on Scotland’s economic potential, a Conservative MSP has warned.

Figures from the Scottish Qualifications Authority showing a drop in the number of students taking the language at Higher level were highlighted by Murdo Fraser at Holyrood. The SQA statistics show that uptake of German at Higher has dropped by around 20%, from 1,261 in 2009 to just over 1,000 in 2014. The number of specialist German teachers has also almost halved from 261 in 2004 to 136 in 2013.


Social inequality and modern languages

17 March 2015 (The Learning Professor)

During the last few weeks, the Scottish Government has faced growing criticism for its perceived neglect of modern languages. Business leaders and European government representatives have lined up to lament the decline of foreign language teaching in Scotland’s schools.


How pupils are saying nein, danke to German

6 March 2015 (TESS)

Students can’t seem to get enough of Mandarin but are bidding ‘auf Wiedersehen’ to the language of Scotland’s near neighbour and economic partner Germany. Julia Belgutay asks why

The premise offered hope to foreign language teachers and all those promoting language learning in schools across Scotland. The 1+2 strategy, announced by the government in 2012, was finally going to bring language learning up to speed with other European countries.

Every child in Scotland would study one foreign language from the first year of primary school, and a second from no later than P5 – a pledge that the government backed up with £4 million of funding last year and a further £5 million in 2014-15.

But more than two years into the implementation of the ambitious strategy, it has become clear that not all languages have been winners. Indeed, some are losing – badly.


Related Links

We need to speak up for the value of German (TESS, 6 March 2015)

Only one in 65 new students chooses a modern language degree – we need a rethink

19 February 2015 (The Conversation)

Out of nearly half a million students who enrolled on a degree course in the UK last year, just over 8,000 of them studied a foreign language. New figures released by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) have crystallised the difficult situation facing university language departments across the country. Only one in every 65 first-year students chooses a modern foreign language degree, showing a decline from one in every 48 in 2007.

Most university subjects are recovering from the recruitment crash of 2012-13, the first year that universities could charge fees up to £9,000 – and some subjects are showing steady numbers of enrolments. Since 2007, the numbers of students starting degree courses in subjects allied to medicine have risen a meteoric 39% and there has been a 30% increase in biological sciences. The figures are no less impressive for the mathematical sciences and business administration, both with a 24% increase.

But this is not the case for modern foreign languages where there is little sign of post-fees recovery.


'Language learning opens up new horizons'

20 November 2014 (The Telegraph)

It's worrying that so few pupils continue with languages, says Frances Suc-Diamond, especially when they open the door to new horizons.


‘Modern languages will be dead in the water’

7 November 2014 (TES)

Sixth-form colleges may be forced to drastically cut the number of A-levels and other qualifications they offer as a result of funding pressures and moves to encourage students to take core subjects.
College leaders have warned that the number of A-levels on offer could fall from 40 to as few as 15, significantly narrowing the choice available to students. Modern foreign languages will be “dead in the water”, with further maths and creative subjects such as music and drama also vulnerable.


The Guardian view on the GCSE results: the foreign-language deficit

21 August 2014 (The Guardian)

The number of students learning a second language at school is in free-fall.


Related Links

What is happening to languages at GCSE? (Speak to the Future, 21 August 2014)

British Council comments on language GCSEs (British Council, 21 August 2014)

A-level results: pass rate ‘declines for first time in 32 years’

14 August 2014 (The Telegraph)

A-level results published by exam boards show the number of A to E grades awarded to students has declined this year, although elite A* grades are up.

[..] Students continued to desert foreign languages following Labour's decision in 2004 to make them option at GCSE, with French, German and Spanish entries all down.


Foreign languages 'shortfall' for business, CBI says

22 June 2014 (BBC News)

The UK's education system is failing to produce enough people with foreign-language skills to meet a growing need from business, the CBI has said. Nearly two-thirds of about 300 UK firms surveyed by the business lobby group said they preferred staff with these skills.

French, German and Spanish were highly prized but Arabic and Mandarin were growing in importance, it said.

The government said its policies meant more children were learning languages.

The report refers to British Council research citing an "alarming shortage" of speakers of certain major languages.

The CBI/Pearson Education and Skills Survey suggested languages were likely to continue to grow in importance "as ambitious firms look to break into new, fast-growing markets".


Related Links

Foreign languages are thriving in schools (The Guardian, letter from Elizabeth Truss, MP, 23 June 2014)

Are employers really worried about Britain's language skills? (The Guardian, 24 June 2014)

CBI education and skills survey 2014

More firms demanding language skills to break into new markets (CBI Press release, 23 June 2014)

Schools drop languages for being too difficult, says Coventry University expert

18 June 2014 (Coventry Telegraph)

(Applies to England) Schools aren’t entering pupils for modern languages at A-level because the subjects are considered to be too difficult, according to a lecturer at Coventry University.


If there aren't enough linguists, we'll need immigrants

23 May 2014 (The Guardian)

As the number of students studying languages falls, the value of immigration to the export sector must be recognised, says Geoffrey Bowden.


It's not that we're bad at languages, it's that we suffer from speaking English

4 May 2014 (Irish Independent)

Are the Irish lamentably bad at learning foreign languages? Senator Ronan Mullen has been castigating Education Minister Ruairi Quinn for failing to promote more language skills in Irish schools and colleges. The Senator says that there is a "serious lack of language skills in the Irish workforce".


French Government slams Wales over cuts to language body

3 April 2014 (Wales Online)

The French government has condemned cuts approved by Welsh ministers to the body that promotes learning foreign languages.

Welsh business leaders have also condemned ministers, stressing the importance of speaking languages abroad.


Why we need to change the way we teach languages

12 March 2014 (TES MFL blog)

Hardly anyone is choosing to study modern languages anymore. The latest UCAS figures showed a 5% drop in the number of applicants for European languages compared to last year. And there’s even been a 4% rise in university applications overall.

There are plenty of people rightly bemoaning the fact that since 2004 language learning in secondary schools has not been obligatory, but we can’t just sit around reading Proust and waiting for some non-existent policy change. I believe we can reverse this dispiriting slide by addressing how we are teaching languages in secondary schools in this country.


Language learning cash to be cut by two thirds

4 February 2014 (BBC News)

The National Centre for Languages (CILT Cymru) - which encourages children to learn foreign languages - is having its funding slashed by two thirds. BBC Wales understands that Cardiff-based Cilt Cymru will have its government funding reduced from around £600,000 to around £200,000 in the financial year starting in April. The Conservatives have attacked the Welsh government's decision. But ministers say in a time of austerity they have to prioritise.


Employers struggle to fill vacancies because of lack of languages

30 January 2014 (The Guardian)

A dearth of foreign language skills accounts for nearly a fifth of hard-to-fill vacancies in the UK, a survey has found.

The UK Commission for Employment and Skills' (UKCES) report on the UK's employer skills found that of reasons employers gave for struggling to fill vacancies, 17% attributed a languages skills shortage.

The survey asked employers which skills they found to be lacking among applicants for its vacancies. Language skills came in at 17%, second to last after IT skills. The highest portion of skills employers found lacking in applicants were technical, job-specific skills, which accounted for 63%.

Genna Kik, senior research manager on the report, said that while the language skills may be low overall compared to the categories, for the businesses experiencing these shortfalls, the impact is significant.


Foreign language study falls by half in Wales over seven years

23 December 2013 (Wales Online)

Foreign language study has halved in the past seven years across Wales' schools and colleges as growing numbers turn away from learning European languages, alarming figures have shown.


Proposals to remove languages from the Welsh Baccalaureate

4 December 2013 (Speak to the Future)

Just at a time when employers are calling more strongly than ever before for better language skills, and hard on the heels of the British Council’s recent report on Languages for the Future and the British Academy’s Lost for Words research on the need for languages in UK diplomacy and security, the Welsh Assembly Government is putting forward proposals which remove the compulsory languages element from the Welsh Baccalaureate.

Unlike the English Baccalaureate, the Welsh Baccalaureate is an actual qualification for 14-19 year olds which may be taken at 3 levels. A 20 hour language module is currently compulsory for all students within the ‘Wales, Europe and the World’ strand. Speak to the Future deplores this development, which sends the wrong message to young people in Wales about the importance of language and intercultural skills in today’s world. It is a message which will work against efforts to persuade more young people to take a language to GCSE and will have the effect of dumbing down the qualification rather than making it more rigorous and more relevant. We call on everyone who supports our campaign to respond to the online survey the Welsh Government has launched with regards to its proposals, which closes on 20 December.


Languages in decline

15 November 2013 (Cherwell - Oxford University)

UK universities are witnessing a startling decline in the number of students studying modern foreign languages, recent government statistics show.

The figures, compiled by UCAS, indicate an overall drop of between 12 and 14 percent in the number of students accepted to study modern foreign languages at British universities between the 2011 and 2012 admissions cycles.


Speaking with one voice on languages

29 October 2013 (The Irish Times)

Next month the Long Room at Trinity College Dublin will be home to a Babel of tongues as the many language-interest groups in Ireland come together to form a new advocacy movement for language learning.

Ireland is well behind other nations when it comes to languages, and we have no official language policy, beyond Irish, around which a movement for progress could coalesce. Modern languages are not compulsory at any stage of Irish schooling. Last year’s budget saw the abolition of the Modern Languages in Primary Schools Initiative (MLPSI); our first foray into early-language learning never made it past the pilot stage. Hence the One Voice for Languages movement.


A lesson for Britain: Language teaching in schools needs a boost

27 October 2013 (The Independent)

Foreign language teaching in British schools is in crisis. The take-up for language courses is declining so precipitately that almost half our university language departments may have to close in a few years. Research by the European Commission last year put young Britons almost at the bottom of the European class in terms of their grasp of a foreign language. Only 9 per cent of our 14 to 15-year-olds were deemed proficient in one foreign subject. The average in the rest of Europe was 42 per cent.


Languages on ice: fluency or floe – which will it be?

8 October 2013 (The Guardian)

It is a paradox of British higher education that our international profile has never been more important, yet fewer universities are offering language degrees. No wonder the government is worried that British graduates will be unable to make it in the global environment. Are we sleepwalking into tongue-tied isolation?


European language degree courses abandoned by many UK universities

7 October 2013 (The Guardian)

More than a third of UK universities have given up offering specialist modern European language degrees over the past 15 years, the Guardian has found, as leading academics argue harsh marking at A-level is putting teenagers off studying the subject at school.


Related Links

Modern languages: degree courses in freefall (The Guardian, 8 October 2013)

Interactive: how many universities have dropped language courses? (The Guardian, 8 October 2013)

University language department closures: 10 things you need to know (The Guardian, 9 October 2013)

Arresting the UK's decline in language learning (The Guardian, 9 October 2013)  Letters in response to this week's language-learning articles

Commission highlights benefits of foreign language skills for UK students and business

16 September 2013 (WiredGov)

More needs to be done to encourage British students to study languages at A Level and university, according to the European Commission. The importance of foreign language skills is self-evident in all EU countries, given that businesses increasingly operate internationally: more than half of the UK's trade is with the rest of Europe - and its businesses need staff who can speak the language of their customers. The Commission will underline this at a conference during the London Language Show next month (18 October).


Examinations - Languages in peril from grades 'farce'

6 September 2013 (TES)

High-flying students at England's most elite private schools are turning away from foreign-language A levels because of the "severe and unpredictable" grading of the exams, a leading teacher has warned.


Teachers call for return of foreign exchange trips to halt the decline of language skills

01 September 2013 (The Guardian)

Linguists are calling for a revival of the school foreign exchange trip to help tackle the crisis in language learning. Language teachers, including the head of the Independent Schools' Modern Language Association, say the dramatic decline in the numbers of pupils going abroad for home stays – where they are placed with a family as part of a twinning exercise with a school in continental Europe – is fuelling the dropping rates of children studying the subjects.


News at a glance: French Higher's fall from favour causes concern

30 August 2013 (TESS)

The number of Scots sitting Higher French plummeted this year, with entries for the exam hitting the lowest point in more than a decade. The Scottish Qualifications Authority figures have prompted Sarah Breslin, director of Scotland's National Centre for Languages, to call for a campaign to raise awareness of the importance of French as a global language.


Ucas stats reveal languages decline

23 July 2013 (THE)

The proportion of 18 year olds applying for non-European language degrees has fallen by more than a third in three years, according to new research.


Fewer pupils studying languages in Glasgow

6 June 2013 (The Herald)

The number of youngsters studying languages in Glasgow up to S4 has dropped steeply.
New figures show there were just 3822 entries for exams in the subjects last year, down one- quarter in a decade.

Council bosses expect the figure to fall even further in coming years as what was once compulsory becomes increasingly optional.


Related Links

Glasgow pupils studying languages falls by 25% (Evening Times, 6 June 2013)

Comment: Why we shouldn't give up on foreign languages

28 May 2013 (The National Student)

In 2004 we, along with Ireland, became the only country in the EU where learning a foreign language is not compulsory after the age of 14. At the same time the rest of Europe was increasing the extent to which students were obliged to study languages.

Should we be worried that we are swimming against the tide?


Language should be no barrier

4 May 2013 (Selkirk Weekend Advertiser)

As I was leafing through the pages of my newspaper one morning this week, I found a piece telling me that teaching foreign languages in schools has reached worryingly low levels in Scotland.


Why are modern languages failing to grip the younger generation?

30 April 2013 (BBC Radio Scotland)

Listen to today's episode of 'Call Kaye' where callers are invited to discuss the declining numbers of Scottish pupils taking language learning to Standard Grade and Higher levels.  Callers are asked what should be done to address the situation, or whether language learning is actually necessary in today's society.

The programme is available on the BBC iPlayer until Monday 6 May 2013.  Listen to this item from 38.38 minutes into the broadcast.


‘Worrying’ dip in foreign languages at Scots schools

Scotsman (29 April 2013)

Foreign language learning in Scotland’s schools has dipped to “worrying” new levels, education experts warned last night. The warning that the decline will have an negative impact on Scotland’s standing in the world came after it emerged that only about one in ten S5 pupils is taking foreign language courses.


Parochialism warning over demise of language studies

16 April 2013 (The Herald)

The demise of modern languages at Scottish universities and schools has been blamed on greater parochialism since devolution. The assertion is made in a major new report on the health of minority European languages such as Russian, Polish and Czech.

The report, by the UK-wide Higher Education Academy (HEA), follows the closure of a number of language courses at Scottish universities in recent years. The number of pupils taking Highers in some modern languages has also fallen.


Fall in foreign language GCSEs prompts fears for Wales' future prospects

2 April 2013 (Wales Online)

(Applies to Wales) The number of pupils taking foreign language GCSEs has fallen drastically, prompting fears the lack of language skills could damage Wales’ economic prospects. The number of entries has fallen from 10,706 in 2009 to 7,872 in 2012, a drop of more than a quarter.


Question to the House of Lords on ‘Languages: The State of the Nation’ report

12 March 2013 (Hansard)

Baroness Coussins put the following question to the House of Lords: To ask Her Majesty's Government what is their response to the conclusion of the British Academy's report Languages: The State of the Nation, published in February, that the United Kingdom will be unable to meet its aspirations for growth and global influence unless action is taken by them, businesses and in education to remedy the deficit in foreign language skills.  See the full debate transcript on the website.


Related Links

Languages: The State of the Nation (British Academy, February 2013)

Cracking the English code

12 March 2013 (British Influence)

(Relates to England) There was much embarrassment recently for Michael Gove when the cabinet's golden boy announced that he would not, after all, be replacing GCSEs with a new English Baccalaureate Certificate (EBC). Part of the reasoning for Gove's EBC had been to increase the take-up of modern European (as well as other) languages – where research shows that there are clear advantages in terms of cognitive skills and understanding.


No comprende: are the benefits of languages getting lost in translation?

20 February 2013 (The Guardian)

We need to find new ways to express the importance of learning languages, writes Professor Nigel Vincent. At the British Academy last week we released a report called Languages: State of the Nation. It analyses the worrying state of the current demand and supply of language skills in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, and is the latest in a series of reports and position papers we have dedicated in recent years to the declining status of languages in our schools and universities. The aim of all our work is to drive home the message that languages are vital for the health and wellbeing of the education and research base, for UK business competitiveness and political standing, and for individuals and society at large.


Sacre bleu! Getting children to study languages is tough

11 January 2013 (TESS)

The difficulties in persuading pupils to study foreign languages at Higher has been underlined by a report that compares languages and social subjects uptake.

The report, which uses social subjects as a comparator since many pupils choose these over languages, finds that the "conversion rate" for languages from Standard grade and Intermediate is "significantly" below that for social subjects.


University of Strathclyde Education Scotland British Council Scotland The Scottish Government
SCILT - Scotlands National centre for Languages