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French and German get a non and nein

Closer European union has done nothing to promote French and German in school, new research concludes. In fact, attitudes to language learning are in "chronic decline".

French and German are the least popular subjects on the curriculum. Pupils find them difficult and of little value, says the unpublished study, sponsored by the Economic and Social Research Council.

The authors question the wisdom of five years of compulsory languages. They also criticise schools that teach whole lessons entirely in a foreign tongue.

"Unfortunately modern languages are not rated highly for their usefulness and are seen as among the least enjoyable subjects by many pupils, particularly boys," say Andrew Stables of Bath University and Felicity Wikeley of London's Institute of Education.

Taking 10 schools in the west of England, the researchers compared pupils' attitudes in 199697 with the views of similar students in 199495.

"It might have been hoped that changes in curriculum and teaching approaches would have increased pupils' interest in modern languages by 199697,"the report says. "However, the findings are disappointing. In 1996 both boys and girls placed French and German equal bottom in terms of liking alongside RE and in the boys' case music."

Only 8 per cent placed a modern language among their three most enjoyable subjects. Eighteen boys and 12 girls out of 127 Year 9s expressed a desire to drop languages - more than double the response to maths or science, the next least popular subjects.

The authors believe languages are hindered by their perceived difficulty and because pupils do not think they are useful.

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