This summer marks the first time students in England have sat exams for new, reformed A Levels in French, German and Spanish. Reformatted exams for other modern foreign languages will follow from next year.
The 2018 A Level entry figures for England, Wales and Northern Ireland show an overall 5.4% decline in the number of students taking language exams in the past year. The number of French exams has fallen by 8% compared with 2017, with a 16.5% decrease in German while Spanish is down by 4%. Chinese has bucked the trend and seen an 8.6% increase over the past year, and for the first time overtaken German as the third most widely studied modern foreign language at A Level.
Commenting on the figures, Mark Herbert, Director of Schools and Skills at the British Council, said:
“With the UK forging new relationships around the world it’s never been more important for our young people to develop the knowledge and skills they need to live and work in a global economy. The new A Level syllabus has the potential to produce more competent linguists, but the continued decline in pupils taking a modern language A Level in the first place is still a real concern. Student perceptions that languages are more difficult and less important than other subjects need to be tackled.
“Against this overall downward trend, the increasing popularity of Chinese proves that our young people can be enthused to study languages. Our research shows that Mandarin will be one of the most important languages for the UK’s future prosperity and global standing – but we mustn’t neglect Spanish, French and German which will still be vital post-Brexit.
“Learning a foreign language doesn’t just boost job prospects by providing vital skills that employers are looking for, it also helps us understand other cultures and work internationally. We all need to encourage our young people to see the value of languages and embrace them as important subjects to study at A Level and beyond.”