Dramatic decline in foreign languages studied at university

Evidence of the alarming fall in the take-up of languages by students at universities has emerged in research.

Figures show that German, especially, has plummeted, with only 610 students accepted on degree courses last year, compared with 2,288 a decade ago. French is the second biggest casualty, with numbers dropping by a third from 5,655 to 3,700 in 10 years.

Overall, the figures show the number of students accepted on to language courses has slumped by almost a quarter during the past decade.

The researchers, from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at the University of London and the University of Stirling, say there was a "steep decline" in the first half of this decade – with overall numbers tumbling by 20 per cent. Since then, French and German have continued to fall – although the decline has been partially offset by a rise in those studying newly-available languages such as Mandarin and Arabic.

The researchers warn that graduates without language skills will find it much harder to find jobs in the modern economy. "Employers ranging from law firms to multinational banks to major aid and development organisations confirmed that applicants with languages were, at the very least, viewed more favourably than those without," they said.

"Some stated categorically that they would not employ people who spoke only English. For some companies, the specific languages were immaterial: they saw students with languages as much more flexible and adaptable, more likely to appreciate the need for intercultural communication skills and more able to build relationships with counterparts or clients in other countries."

They argue that universities should start providing degree courses in some of the community languages most in use in Britain.

"For the four most widely spoken community languages in England – Urdu, Cantonese, Punjabi and Bengali – there are no degree courses available, despite the fact that these languages have been well-established in the UK since at least the 1960s, and that substantial numbers of secondary school children have studied them to A-level," their report added.

The SOAS has since announced that it is to begin a degree course in Bengali from next month.

About 6,000 youngsters now take Urdu at GCSE, with 600 continuing to A-level, while more than 2,000 study Mandarin at A-level.

The continuing decline has led to ministers declaring modern foreign languages a "strategic and vulnerable" subject, offering help for universities threatening to ditch language courses.

The report warns that English might lose its position as the most widely-spoken business language, given the growth in the Chinese economy.

"The dominance of English around the world may be threatened," it added. "Furthermore, other foreign languages, notably Arabic, Hindi/Urdu and Spanish, closely followed by Russian and Portuguese, are strong competitors.

"In a world where 'everyone' (in reality, probably about 25 per cent of the world's population) speaks English as a first or additional language, competence in these other languages is likely to constitute a competitive 'edge'."

In promoting community languages, it also argues that those youngsters who are already fluent in a second language will find it easier to pick up a third if their employment sends them to a foreign country.

The take-up of languages in schools has slumped since the Government made them voluntary subjects for children from the age of 14. The number taking French at GCSE, for instance, has halved since the turn of the century.

However, there was some cause for comfort in last week's A-level results, with the take-up of French rising by 2.8 per cent to its highest level for six years, and Spanish rising by 1.5 per cent.

Education experts have also predicted that the decline in languages at GCSE level might bottom out when this year's results are published on Thursday.

In numbers

2,288 - number of students opting to study German at university in 1998

610 - number opting to study German in 2008

Life and Style
life
News
Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie reportedly married in secret on Saturday
peopleSpokesperson for couple confirms they tied the knot on Saturday after almost a decade together
Life and Style
Chen Mao recovers in BK Hospital, Seoul
health
News
Joan Rivers has reportedly been hospitalised after she stopped breathing during surgery
people81-year-old 'stopped breathing' during vocal chord surgery
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Diana from the Great British Bake Off 2014
tvProducers confirm contestant left because of illness
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live
tv
Life and Style
fashion

Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

SEN Teaching Assistant

£50 - £60 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: SEN Teaching Assistant We are...

SEN Teaching Assistant

£50 - £60 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: SEN Teaching Assistant We are...

SEN Tutor- Speech and Language Specialist part time

£80 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: Randstad Education are curren...

SEN Teaching Assistant

£50 - £60 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: SEN Teaching Assistant We are...

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone