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

Voices
Numbers of complaints about unwanted calls have trebled in just six months
voices
News
people
Arts & Entertainment
Picture of innocence: Ricky Gervais and Karl Pilkington in ‘Derek’
tvReview: The insights of Ricky Gervais's sweet and kind character call to mind Karl Pilkington's faux-naïf podcast observations
Life & Style
Looking familiar: The global biometrics industry is expected to grow to $20bn by 2020
tech
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
News
Higher expectations: European economies are growing but the recovery remains weak
newsThe eurozone crisis has tipped many into despair and extremism - this radically altered landscape calls for a new kind of politics, argues economist Philippe Legrain
Arts & Entertainment
Tangled up in blue: Singer-songwriter Judith Owen
musicAnd how husband Harry Shearer - of Spinal Tap and The Simpsons fame - helped her music flourish
Sport
Karim Benzema celebrates scoring the opening goal
sportReal Madrid 1 Bayern Munich 0: Germans will need their legendary self-belief to rescue Champions League tie in second leg
Arts & Entertainment
Paul Weller: 'I am a big supporter of independent record stores but the greedy touts making a fast buck off genuine fans is disgusting'
music
Arts & Entertainment
William Shakespeare's influence on English culture is still strongly felt today, from his plays on stage to words we use everyday
arts
Sport
Manchester United manager David Moyes has claimed supporters understand the need to look at
sportScot thanks club staff and fans, but gives no specific mention of players
News
Foster and Hedison have reportedly been dating since last summer
peopleOscar-winner said to be 'totally in love' with Alexandra Hedison
News
Strange 'quack' noises could be undersea chatter of Minke whales
science
News
weird news... and film it, obviously
Life & Style
Balancing act: City workers at the launch of Cityfathers
lifeThe organisation is the brainchild of Louisa Symington-Mills who set up Citymothers in 2012 - a group boasting more than 3,000 members
Arts & Entertainment
tv
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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Cover Supervisor Needed Nottingham/Derbyshire

£3360 - £16800 per annum: Randstad Education Nottingham: Cover Supervisor requ...

English Teacher

£6720 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Nottingham: Urgently Required. En...

Supply teachers needed in Cambridgeshire

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Randstad are looking ...

Geography Teacher

£6720 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Nottingham: We are currently recr...

Day In a Page

Migrants in Britain a decade on: The Poles who brought prosperity

Migrants in Britain a decade on

The Poles who brought prosperity
Philippe Legrain: 'The eurozone crisis has tipped many into disillusionment, despair and extremism - we need a European Spring'

Philippe Legrain: 'We need a European Spring'

The eurozone crisis has tipped many into disillusionment, despair and extremism - this radically altered landscape calls for a new kind of politics, argues the economist
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A moment of glory on the Western Front for the soldiers of the Raj

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A moment of glory on the Western Front for the soldiers of the Raj
Judith Owen reveals how husband Harry Shearer - star of This Is Spinal Tap and The Simpsons - helped her music flourish

Judith Owen: 'How my husband helped my music flourish'

Her mother's suicide and father's cancer also informed the singer-songwriter's new album, says Pierre Perrone
The online lifeline: How a housing association's remarkable educational initiative gave hope to tenant battling long-term illness and depression

Online lifeline: Housing association's educational initiative

South Yorkshire Housing Association's free training courses gave hope to tenant battling long-term illness and depression
Face-recognition software: Is this the end of anonymity for all of us?

Face-recognition software: The end of anonymity?

The software is already used for military surveillance, by police to identify suspects - and on Facebook
Train Kick Selfie Guy is set to scoop up to $250,000 thanks to his viral video - so how can you cash in on your candid moments?

Viral videos: Cashing in on candid moments

Train Kick Selfie Guy Jared Frank could receive anything between $30,000 to $250,000 for his misfortune - and that's just his cut of advertising revenue from being viewed on YouTube
The world's fastest elevators - 20 metres per second - are coming soon to China

World's fastest elevators coming soon to China

Whatever next? Simon Usborne finds out from Britain's highest authority on the subject
Cityfathers tackles long-hours culture that causes men to miss out on seeing their children

Cityfathers tackles long-hours culture

The organisation is the brainchild of Louisa Symington-Mills, a chief operating officer who set up Citymothers in 2012 - a group that now boasts more than 3,000 members
Ian Herbert: Manchester United broken so badly they need a big personality to carry out overhaul

United broken so badly they need a big personality to carry out overhaul

The size of the rebuild needed at Old Trafford is a task way beyond Ryan Giggs, says Ian Herbert
Mark Schwarzer: Chelsea keeper aims to seize unlikely final chance

Mark Schwarzer: Chelsea keeper aims to seize unlikely final chance

The 41-year-old calmed his nerves to perform a classic 'Superman act' when he replaced Petr Cech in Madrid. One clean sheet later, he is now determined to become a club hero
Brits who migrate to Costa del Sol more unhappy than those who stay at home

It's not always fun in the sun: Moving abroad does not guarantee happiness

Brits who migrate to Costa del Sol more unhappy than those who stay at home
Migrants in Britain a decade on: They came, they worked, they stayed in Lincolnshire

Migrants in Britain a decade on

They came, they worked, they stayed in Lincolnshire
Chris Addison on swapping politics for pillow talk

Chris Addison on swapping politics for pillow talk

The 'Thick of It' favourite thinks the romcom is an 'awful genre'. So why is he happy with a starring role in Sky Living's new Lake District-set series 'Trying Again'?