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Response to the British Council Language Trends Survey

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The British Academy responded today to the publication of the British Council’s Language Trends Survey 2019, an annual survey of the health of language teaching and learning in schools across the UK.

Approximately 1620 primary and secondary, state and independent schools participated in the survey this year.

The report charts a continuation of the overall decline in language learning at secondary school level. For example, the number of schools that offer German has declined from 48 per cent to 40 per cent since 2015.

The survey reveals that tough exams might be one of the main reasons for a decline in languages uptake. Around 71 per cent of state secondary school teachers and 64 per cent of those teaching at independent schools were concerned about the content of languages exams. In addition, many teachers are concerned about marking and grading of exams.

The survey also suggests that the language gap between learners from privileged and disadvantaged social backgrounds has become wider: disadvantaged students are now even less likely to learn a language than three years ago.

Professor Neil Kenny FBA, Lead Fellow for languages at the British Academy, said:

“Every student should be able to learn a language but opportunity to do so is increasingly becoming a privilege, meaning many young people are missing out on the benefits that language learning offers.

“Having competence in another language offers windows onto other worlds; it increases employability; it confers cognitive benefits; it broadens our mental horizons; it makes us more likely to be curious and respectful when encountering different cultures and communities.

“The British Academy has published a call for action on languages and continues working with stakeholders to ensure the sustainability of language learning in Britain.