Beckham turns the British on to Spanish practices

He has had a marked influence on the nation's football, is a fashion icon and is renowned for his hairstyles. Now David Beckham seems to be almost single-handedly reviving the nation's desire to learn languages.

Figures from the Open University show the number of students applying to join its Spanish-for-beginners course has more than trebled since the England captain signed for Real Madrid. In June, there were 465. Now there are 1,438 and it is expected to have reached 1,700 by next month.

One theory is that many football fans are switching to European satellite TV channels for Real Madrid's games and cannot understand the commentary.

Cecilia Garrido, sub dean of education and languages at the Open University, said: "Media coverage of David Beckham's move has contributed by putting Spain firmly in the spotlight. Now more and more people want to learn the language."

Beckham's part in achieving the rise will please Charles Clarke, the Secretary of State for Education, who has urged more people to make Spanish their first foreign language. Mr Clarke said that was essential to help Britain build business contracts through the world.

Details of the rise in interest will lift celebrations of European Languages Day tomorrow. The event looked likely to be marked by gloomier news; more and more secondary schools were dropping languages. That followed the Government's decision to make it a voluntary subject in the national curriculum for pupils aged 14 to 16.

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