Spanish a sizzling success with Welsh teens

28th August 2009 at 01:00
Gap-year prospects lure A-level language students away from `harder' German and French

Spanish has replaced German as the second most popular modern foreign language (MFL) studied at A-level in Wales.

Last week's exam results revealed that post-16 students are increasingly dumping German in favour of Espanol, with just 244 entries for the former at A-level this year compared with 268 entries for the latter.

In the past few years the popularity of German has waned while that of Spanish has rocketed. Since 2001, A-level German entries have dropped by 23 per cent, while those for Spanish have increased by 160 per cent.

Despite this, German was the only A-level subject this year to have a 100 per cent pass rate. French remains the most popular MFL studied at A-level in Wales, but entries were down 8 per cent, with 866 students taking the exam.

Although Spanish is taught in only a handful of schools and colleges across Wales, those institutions offering courses said that interest is at an all-time high.

Dr Barbara Prosser, head of the advanced studies faculty at Coleg Glan Hafren in Cardiff, said: "We have seen an absolutely huge rise in Spanish. Our evening classes in A-level, AS-level and OCN are all full. It's incredible."

Teachers said many of their students see Spanish as an enjoyable language to learn and one that's easier to master than German.

With more students now taking a gap year before university, they see more opportunities to use Spanish while travelling abroad.

"We find that the majority of students learn it for personal enjoyment because they like to use it on holiday, and it's a leisure thing," said Dr Prosser.

Derec Stockly, director of examinations and assessment with the Welsh exam board WJEC, said: "It's a difficult one to explain. Are people aware perhaps of the economic possibilities of Spanish-speaking countries? It's a widely spoken language and there are lots of opportunities for travel and work abroad."

Jane Hutt, the education minister, welcomed the growing popularity of Spanish. "It shows that if you introduce, encourage and enable a new opportunity, you will get the results," she said.

But CILT Cymru, the language centre for Wales, expressed concern over the declining take-up of French and German at A-level, and the continuing decline in all MFL subjects at AS-level.

A spokeswoman said: "We are very concerned that too few young people in our education system are being equipped with the linguistic skills and cultural knowledge that would allow them to take advantage of work and study opportunities within the European Union."

Earlier this year, Welsh inspectorate Estyn said secondary schools must do more to encourage pupils to learn languages. The report called for more collaboration between English, Welsh and MFL departments, improved language options in vocational courses and for the language element of the Welsh baccalaureate to become a "worthwhile experience".

The results of the Assembly government's MFL consultation, `Making Languages Count', are due to be published in December.

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