A-level results day 2018: Chinese overtakes German among students for first time, amid decline in languages

‘We’re seeing German just moving into extinction really’

Charlie Wood,Eleanor Busby
Thursday 16 August 2018 13:30 BST
Learning Chinese is now more popular than German among A-level students
Learning Chinese is now more popular than German among A-level students (Getty)

More students sat A-levels in Chinese than in German this year amid a continuing decline in modern foreign languages, the latest figures show.

Chinese has become more popular among sixth formers than German for the first time – with 3,334 students taking the subject this year compared to 3,058 students who sat exams in the European language .

A-level Chinese – which saw a rise of 8.6 per cent in entries compared to 2017 – has bucked the trend of students moving away from modern foreign languages in sixth form.

The number of students opting to study German, French and Spanish has fallen by 7.9 per cent, new figures from exam boards show.

Entry rates for German were down by 16.5 per cent on last year, while entries for French declined by 8 per cent to 8,713 and entries for Spanish dropped by 4 per cent to 8,255.

Suzanne O’Farrell, curriculum and assessment specialist at the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “We’re seeing German just moving into extinction really. It is in severe decline.”

The move towards Chinese at A-level comes after the government launched a £10m Mandarin Excellence Programme – which is aiming for 5,000 young people to become fluent Mandarin speakers by 2020.

Mandarin Chinese is the first language of over 1.25 billion people worldwide, and fluency in the language is widely considered to be useful in an increasingly global economy.

Mark Herbert, director of schools and skills at the British Council, said the continued decline in pupils taking a modern language A-level in the first place was a “real concern”.

“Student perceptions that languages are more difficult and less important than other subjects need to be tackled,” he said.

Mr Herbert added: “Against this overall downward trend, the increasing popularity of Chinese proves that our young people can be enthused to study languages.

“Our research shows that Mandarin will be one of the most important languages for the UK’s future prosperity and global standing – but we mustn’t neglect Spanish, French and German which will still be vital post-Brexit.”

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