Spanish overtakes German as languages decline finally halts

Mandarin, Arabic and Italian also on the rise in state secondary schools
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The Independent Online

Spanish has replaced German as the second most popular language learnt in schools, it was revealed yesterday. And the number of state schools offering Mandarin as an option has more than trebled in the past two years from one in 25 to more than one in seven.

The figures are revealed in the annual census of secondary schools compiled by the Centre for Information on Languages Teaching, which also shows that the dramatic decline in languages since it was made optional for 14 to 16-year-olds has halted for the first time. However, there has been no increase in take-up.

The census also suggests a revolution in the language options offered in secondary schools. The figures show 75 per cent of state schools are now offering Spanish compared with 67 per cent offering German. French remains the most popular language, with 99 per cent offering it.

The number of schools offering Italian has doubled in the past two years from 9 per cent to 18 per cent while Mandarin has risen from 4 per cent to 14 per cent.

Last night, language experts said they believed TV's "obsession" with programmes about the Second World War had contributed to the decline in take-up of German.

Linda Parker, director of the Association for Language Learners, said: "You can always find Hitler on the TV. I think German is seen as a difficult language to learn – yet that isn't necessarily the case. Children don't see it as an exciting or interesting language and the culture doesn't appeal to them."

Teresa Tinsley, director of communications at CILT, added: "I've certainly heard German teachers say 'not another programme about Hitler'."

She said businesses feared the demise of German because the country is one of the UK's largest non-English speaking trading partners.

By contrast, Spain was seen as a "language of leisure" – useful for holiday destinations, she said.

Languages take-up in state schools mirrors what has been happening in the independent sector – where Spanish had already taken over from German as the second language.

However, after an initial spurt in Mandarin, the numbers have slightly declined this year. Even so, 28 per cent of private schools offer it.

Overall, the figures show the number of youngsters taking a modern foreign language at GCSE fell again this summer to 44 per cent. However, a census taken by CILT in September revealed they were now holding up for the first time since the decline started seven years ago. Pupils were also opting for different types of qualifications – such as the new Asset qualifications which offer youngsters the chance to study for a language grade – in the same way as they can do for music.

A breakdown of the figures reveals there is still a class dividein the take-up of languages – with 78 per cent of state schools saying it was now optional at GCSE and only 18 per cent of private schools.

Grammar schools and specialist language colleges featured heavily in the 22 per cent of state schools which still made the subject compulsory at GCSE. Only a handful of comprehensive schools were included in this list.