German diplomat urges children to learn a language

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The German ambassador is urging ministers to revoke the ban on compulsory language lessons for 14 to 16-year-olds in schools.

Georg Boomgaarden spoke out yesterday about what he described as the "dramatic" fall in the number of youngsters learning languages in state schools.

He cited figures showing the number opting for German at GCSE had almost halved in the past eight years – from 130,000 in 2002 to 73,500 last year.

He was speaking against the background of a "think German" campaign being launched in the UK.

It will include posters on the Tube and postcards to remind Britons that they are already speaking German in everyday life so why not study it, too.

Words like "Doppelgänger", "Wunderkind" and "Schadenfreude" are in common usage in everyday life, the campaign stresses.

Mr Boomgaarden said he thought England would benefit culturally and materially if there was a return to the days when modern foreign languages were compulsory for 14 to 16-year-olds.

"Foreign language learning is dropping," he said. "It is no longer compulsory from the age of 14. The number of schools with less than 50 per cent learning a foreign language was 40 per cent in 2009/10."

He said it was "a good thing" that attempts were being made to make it mandatory for primary schoolchildren to learn a language.

However, he added: "It makes no sense to make early language training compulsory and then not follow it up."

In Germany, youngsters cannot progress to the equivalent of A-levels without having studied two languages. "You can't become a doctor or a lawyer without two languages," he said.

Boomgarden added that Germany was still Britain's second largest trading partner.