Debate of the week: Losing in languages

by Emily

A survey released this week has revealed that fewer secondary schools in England are meeting government targets for foreign language tuition.

According to the National Centre for Languages (Cilt) only 40% of state schools meet the official target - which states that schools should have between 50% and 90% of pupils taking a modern foreign language at GCSE level.

The truth is rather different. In England last summer, 44% of 15 and 16 year olds took a language GCSE. That's a shamefully low figure, surely. Less than half the country is engaging with a language at its most basic level. Alarmingly, French and German, traditionally the two mainstays of language learning at secondary level, are the worst affected. French GCSE entries were down by nearly 7% and whilst German GCSE entries sank by just over 4%.

Our attitude to languages has traditionally been one of complacency, with many people figuring that, as most of the world speaks English, we may as well not bother learning another language. However, that's an attitude which rankles with most other nations, especially in Europe, where our reticence to engage with their languages wins us no favours. By contrast, many children on the continent have started to learn two languages by the time they reach secondary school, and their proficiency in English puts us to shame.

We should make every effort to encourage our young people to study modern foreign languages seriously and buck this worrying trend of decreasing take-up in the field. By equipping them with a sound knowledge of French, Spanish or German, we will open up their futures.