Only one in five 15-year-olds now learns a foreign language, a survey published today shows.
Headteachers blame a lack of high-quality language teachers and say uninspiring lessons are deterring teenagers. The survey by the Secondary Heads Association highlights the sharp drop in take-up of modern foreign languages in England since the subject became optional for over-14s a year ago.
Languages have never been compulsory in Wales, and GCSE take-up is even lower - less than a third of Year 11 pupils took such an exam in 2004. CILT Cymru, the national centre for languages, has warned that plans to make ICT compulsory will further squeeze the time for languages, while some heads surveyed by the SHA blamed compulsory Welsh lessons for poor take-up of other languages.
One Welsh head said: "Pupils have to study Welsh by law. This is not to the liking of the vast majority of pupils, particularly in an Anglicised city such as Swansea. Despite being a Welsh speaker myself, I have a great deal of sympathy with their perspective."
The SHA surveyed more than 150 schools to find out how their take-up and staffing for languages had changed at key stage 4 over the past two years.
It found that an average of just 20 per cent of Year 10 and 31 per cent of Year 11 pupils were still studying modern languages.
The association also discovered that the number of full time-equivalent language teachers in secondary schools had fallen. If replicated across England and Wales, this would suggest around 1,000 language teachers had left their jobs in the past two years at a time when qualified teacher numbers have otherwise been increasing.