The British Academy has warned that the English Baccalaureate is failing to halt the decline in young people studying languages at GCSE.
The number of students taking GCSEs, A-levels and university degrees in languages has been falling steadily for many years, due in part to the government’s unfortunate decision in 2004 to make languages optional at Key Stage 4.
The English Baccalaureate (EBacc) recognises pupils who pass five core academic subjects at GCSE, including a modern or ancient language. It was hoped that the EBacc would reverse the decline in language-learning, but this year’s data suggests that the initial positive effect appears to be wearing off.
The fall in students choosing languages at GCSE in 2017 is particularly evident in European languages: entries for German are down by 12%, French by 10% and Spanish by 3%, compared to last year.
The British Academy is deeply concerned that this year’s decline will further erode the numbers of young people studying languages to a higher level, with knock-on effects for the UK as a whole.
Professor Nigel Vincent, lead Fellow for languages at the British Academy said:
“Studying a language brings so much more than the ability to speak it. Languages can help us forge relationships, build trust and develop understanding across cultures and beyond borders.
“The British Academy has shown that language graduates are in high demand from employers, as much for their wider skillset as for their linguistic talents. In Our Born Global research, 70% of UK SMEs agreed that future executives will need foreign language skills.
“So it is worrying that the number of young people studying languages continues to decline, even after the introduction of the EBacc. We must do more to encourage language-learning at all stages of education. In the interconnected and multicultural world in which we live, foreign languages are not an optional extra.”
The British Academy has shown that languages are essential to UK society, security and the economy, through its briefing on languages, its Born Global project on languages and employability, and its Lost for Wordsreport on the need for languages in UK diplomacy and security.
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- Professor Nigel Vincent FBA is Professor Emeritus of General & Romance Linguistics at the University of Manchester. He is a Fellow of the British Academy and lead spokesperson for languages.