Primaries' promotion of languages sparks later drop-off

29th October 2010 at 01:00

Language learning among 11- to 14-year-olds is declining in many countries across Europe as more emphasis is put on studying the subject in primary school.

A survey of the 27 European countries shows that a third more primary pupils were learning a foreign language in 2008 than in 2000.

There were significant increases in primary language learning in the UK, Greece, Bulgaria, Germany and Italy, according to Eurostat, part of the European Commission.

Plans to make the learning of foreign languages compulsory in English primary schools, proposed under the Labour government, were dropped in the run-up to May's general election.

Across the EU there was a slight increase in foreign language learning for pupils aged 11-14 - but the proportion fell in the UK, Denmark, Greece, Spain, Poland, Finland, Iceland and Norway.

The report stated: "One interpretation of this pattern could be that, whereas at primary level the starting age is getting earlier, in secondary education the number of years for which foreign languages is a compulsory subject is decreasing slightly."

The overall proportion of students studying languages at upper secondary level - pupils aged 15 and 16 - is unchanged, the report found.

On average, three-quarters of students aged 14 and over study at least two foreign languages. But in the UK, only 32 per cent of pupils study one foreign language, the lowest proportion by far of any EU country.

The survey reported that English is the most widely learned first foreign language, followed by French.

Among adults, the most widely spoken foreign languages are English, followed by German and Russian - which is concentrated in the Eastern European countries.

Hungarian, Romanian and Portuguese adults were the most likely to say they could speak no foreign languages. The UK was the only country where the number of adults saying they could speak two or more foreign languages was too small to be measured.

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