The British Academy responds to Language Trends Survey

8 Jul 2022

The British Academy has today responded to the British Council’s latest annual Language Trends 2022 report, which reveals language learning in schools in England is in slow recovery after the COVID-19 pandemic.

This year the British Council surveyed teachers at more than 1,500 primary, secondary and independent schools across England. The survey has found that:

  • the COVID-19 pandemic has contributed to a significant reduction in international activities in schools
  • Spanish will overtake French as the most popular language at GCSE by 2026 if current trends continue
  • schools are unlikely to meet the government’s EBacc ambition for many pupils learning a language.

The British Academy continues to advocate for a National Languages Strategy to boost language teaching and learning in order to address the UK’s linguistic underperformance, which costs the nation an estimated 3.5% GDP every year.

Professor Neil Kenny FBA, the British Academy’s languages lead, said:

“As ever, the British Council’s Language Trends survey provides an invaluable snapshot of the state of language learning in schools. At both primary and secondary level, the ongoing decline in international activities is truly concerning. The problem is of particular concern in state schools and has been greatly exacerbated by the pandemic. International experience is the oxygen of language-learning, and this move away from it must be reversed.

“At primary level, the patchy provision revealed by the survey needs to be improved through clear guidance to schools. Such guidance needs to be realistic, accounting for primary teachers’ subject expertise. It also needs to be inspirational but not over-aspirational and it must ensure a smoother transition from primary to secondary-level language learning.

“There is widespread support for the government’s desire to boost uptake in GCSE languages. Last year the British Academy and partners published a draft strategy with a host of measures including mentoring schemes led by undergraduates – it is reassuring to see in the survey that teachers are keen on such mentoring. The strategy sets out a clear pathway for reversing the long-term decline – which we must do if we are to strengthen the pipeline of linguists into our universities and workforce.”

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