Pupils shun foreign languages

10th September 2010 at 01:00
Exam entries plummet amid fears that compulsory Welsh is turning students off

Welsh children are abandoning the study of modern foreign languages (MFL) at GCSE and A-level because they view the subjects as "irrelevant", an educational charity has warned.

Figures from the WEJC exam board show that entries for A-level language subjects fell by 17 per cent this year, while GCSE entries fell by 3.5 per cent.

French A-level entries were down 17 per cent on 2009, German by 14 per cent and Spanish 18 per cent. French GCSE entries were down 2.8 per cent and German 10 per cent.

Ceri James, director of educational charity CILT Cymru, also suggested that the compulsory Welsh second-language GCSE may be putting some pupils off studying another.

"A lot of pupils just can't see the point in studying a foreign language," he said. "There is a plethora of other subjects available and they don't see languages as useful or relevant, and that's a shame.

"We need to get the message across that learning a second language is useful - it can open doors in terms of employment and travel, and give you the ability to see life through the eyes of another culture."

This year only Spanish bucked the trend as entries at GCSE increased by 1.6 per cent. The subject has now overtaken German to become the second most popular foreign language studied at both A-level and GCSE in Wales.

According to the General Teaching Council for Wales, since 2007 the number of Spanish-trained teachers registered in Wales has increased from 33 to 55, while the number of teachers trained in German has fallen from 112 to 104.

Mr James said although the increased interest and take-up of Spanish was welcome, the decline in German was worrying.

"It seems to be that when a German teacher leaves they are not being replaced and the subject is dropping off the curriculum in many schools," he said. "There almost seems to be an anti-German movement taking place.

"Spanish is quite a fashionable language at the moment and a lot of heads see Spanish as a more attractive language for their pupils because they think it's easier to learn. But German is an important trading and business language that is needed as much, if not more, than Spanish on the international marketplace."

In July the Assembly government published its long-awaited MFL strategy Making Languages Count, which is designed to improve language learning and teaching.

However, linguists were left disappointed that the action plan focuses mainly on 14-19 education and not primary language teaching, despite a six-year pilot scheme that has shown promising results.

An Assembly government spokesman said: "We have taken steps to improve pupils' experience of learning a modern foreign language in secondary schools through both the introduction of the revised national curriculum programme of study and the advice provided by Estyn for practitioners on good practice in the planning and delivery of modern foreign languages.

"We are also working to develop a range of flexible language learning options with suitable accreditation - including making use of the language module in the Welsh Baccalaureate Qualification."

17% - Percentage A-level entries for language subjects are down on 2009.

  • Original headline: Pupils shun foreign languages because they `can't see the point'

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