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Sacre bleu! Getting children to study languages is tough

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.

Proportionally more pupils go on to Higher in Spanish than in French and German, but the overall picture is discouraging for languages, according to analysis by SCILT, Scotland's national centre for languages.

Of the three main languages and the three main social subjects, French is clearly the most popular of all six when taking into account Intermediate 1 and 2 and Standard grade General and Credit.

But at Higher, the uptake for all three languages is far behind that for all three social subjects.

Yet the report, which draws on Scottish Qualifications Authority data from 2009-2012, also gives lie to the notion that languages are "hard".

That belief is still prevalent among pupils, a number of languages experts have told TESS in recent months, but the SCILT report finds that attainment levels in French and Spanish are above those in social sciences, particularly when it comes to passes at A grade.

The report charts the decline of French, which since 2009 has seen overall entries at Standard grade General and Credit and Intermediate 1 and 2 fall from almost 29,000 to around 24,400 - the latter figure based on pre-appeal data - although numbers have remained relatively stable at Higher.

Full report:


Higher entries for languages and social subjects, 2012 (pre-appeal)

History 9,831

Geography 7,837

Modern studies 8,184

French 4,688

Spanish 1,593

German 1,118.

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