Foreign languages: Concern over young people's skills as university applications fall

5th August 2017 at 00:02
The number of pupils studying French and German to GCSE and A level is also falling
Fresh concerns have been raised that not enough young people are learning foreign languages, as figures reveal a slump in applications to study the subjects at university.
 
Applications for degree courses linked to European languages have fallen by almost a quarter in the past five years, and applications to other language courses have dropped by almost a fifth, according to a Press Association analysis.
 
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.
 

Secondary school pupils

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.
 
Vicky Gough, schools adviser at the British Council, said: "As the UK comes to reposition itself on the world stage, language skills matter now more than ever.
 
"And with the country already facing a languages shortfall, we must do everything we can to encourage more people to acquire these vital skills.
 
"The reality is that speaking another language not only boosts job prospects but also enables you to connect with another culture.
 
"If the UK is to remain internationally competitive - particularly as we prepare to leave the EU - we need far more young people, not fewer, to be learning languages in schools and beyond. It's not enough to rely on English alone."
 
The Press Association's analysis of Ucas figures shows that as of 30 June this year, there had been 15,140 applications from UK applicants to study European language courses at university, down from 19,620 at the same point in 2012 – a drop of 22.8 per cent.
 
In addition, the number of UK applications to study degree courses related to non-European languages fell by 17.5 per cent over the same five-year period, from 5,720 in 2012 to 4,720 this year.
 
Analysis of A level data published by the Joint Council for Qualifications shows the numbers of entries for French and German A level dropped by more than a quarter between 2011 and 2016 (French was down by 26.7 per cent and German was down by 25.6 per cent).
 
However, there has been an 11.2 per cent rise in A-level pupils taking Spanish over this period, while entries for other modern languages also rose, by 2.9 per cent. Languages such as Arabic and Italian have become more popular A-level choices over the last three years.
 
Results
 
At GCSE, there has also been a fall in French and German entries and a rise for Spanish and other modern languages including Chinese and Arabic.
 

Ms Gough said it was particularly worrying that French and German numbers continue to decline, despite being valued by employers.

She added: "The main silver lining is that Spanish - the language seen as most important for the UK's future prosperity - continues to buck the general downturn.
 
"There are also welcome increases in less traditional languages such as Mandarin Chinese - the most widely spoken language in the world.
 
"While it is positive that these languages are becoming more accessible to schools - and more popular amongst pupils - these modest gains sadly cannot compensate for the decline in language learning overall."
 
The figures come just weeks before teenagers across England, Wales and Northern Ireland receive their A-level and GCSE results.
 
A Department for Education (DfE) spokeswoman said: "Having the opportunity to study a language is an important part of the core academic education that will help young people gain the knowledge and understanding they need to compete in an increasingly global workplace.
 
"As part of our work to address the historic decline in study of modern foreign languages, we have made it a compulsory part of the primary curriculum and introduced the English Baccalaureate at GCSE, that includes the study of a GCSE, and which we hope to see 75 per cent of pupils studying by 2022."

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