Decline of languages in schools

Published 18th June 2012
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With Britain becoming ever more multicultural, why are children not interested in learning new languages at school?

Once again, interest in learning languages in schools in the UK is declining, with pupils opting out of GCSE French, German and Spanish. In 2004 the previous government made them optional at GCSE level, which is said to be the reason for this plummet in interest.

Many of us are guilty of lacking enthusiasm for various subjects in school, but what can be done to encourage pupils to learn new languages?

The current government have decided that introducing the English Baccalaureate could help to highlight the importance of foreign languages. The Baccaulaureate, which will be introduced in schools across England this year, focuses on the core subjects of English, Mathematics, Science, History, Geography and one foreign language. With European Commission figures showing the UK well below the average for foreign languages learned in secondary school, the Baccaulaureate is expected to considerably boost the number of teenagers studying them.

However we can’t help but wonder why languages aren’t being introduced to the school curriculum at a much earlier stage. If primary school pupils were exposed to just one hour of language learning each week, they may feel in a better position to pursue languages in secondary school.

It has recently been reported that children with native English speaking parents are now in the minority, meaning that the majority of children in the UK are bilingual. With languages present in so many children’s lives it’s a wonder why they do not want to expand on these skills which they have naturally developed from birth. Many studies have found that children who speak more than one language will find it easier to pick up others, so perhaps languages could be an easier option at school for some of these children…

But maybe the UK is going wrong with the languages on offer in secondary schools…
Earlier in the year the BBC reported that pupils in private schools were more likely to study languages at GCSE level than those in state schools. They also reported that private schools offer alternative languages to their pupils, including Italian, Japanese and Mandarin, on top of French, German and Spanish which are offered in most schools in the UK. Maybe the answer is to offer more languages in state schools to encourage interest in languages in general.

Many people wonder where a language degree will take you in life…the truth is, anywhere! (Including the translation industry of course!) Language graduates are among the most employable of all graduates in the UK, but do school pupils know this? With a little education about where languages can take you, we could see a surge in teenagers studying languages!

Here at Lingua Translations we have a passion for languages and find it disappointing to hear that there is a decline in teenagers studying languages in schools. Tell us about your experiences of learning languages in schools in your country via the comments box below.

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