Students prefer `exotic' languages

STUDENTS ARE shunning the traditional foreign languages of German and French to study more "exotic" languages, according to research published yesterday.

They would rather learn Spanish, Italian, Greek and Japanese than the languages more usually taught in schools. The number of people wanting to study German has fallen by more than half in the past three years, while demand for French lessons has dropped by 47 per cent, according to a survey of 700 further and adult education colleges. But researchers found demand for Spanish had risen by more than 50 per cent, while the popularity of Italian was up by a third. One in five colleges said they could not keep up with the demand for Spanish, while one in 10 had too many requests for Italian. Demand for lessons in Japanese, Greek, Arabic, Dutch and Welsh were also up, but the numbers wanting to speak Russian were down, according to the survey by the Further Education Development Agency.

An estimated 80,000 people are learning languages at college, according to the survey. Overall, Spanish was the most popular choice followed by French, German, Italian and Greek. The study echoes figures for A-level entrants published last week, which showed declines in the number of teenagers studying both French and German, while the number taking Spanish was up. Researcher Val Davis said increased trade with Latin America and the use of English as the language of business across Europe contributed to the trend. She said: "For many years German and French were the two languages most places offered and that was your choice if you wanted to learn a language.

"As far as German is concerned, it is quite difficult in terms of structure, whereas Spanish is quite easy to learn and its vocabulary is straightforward." Frederique Bosvieux, a senior policy adviser at the Confederation of British Industry, said: "The main languages for business are still English, French and German, but there are a lot of emerging markets in Spain, Latin America and Asia. I'm not surprised at the trend. The three languages that will be key for business are English, Mandarin and Spanish. There is a lot of anecdotal evidence about the need for good language skills. There are many examples of companies investing in Ireland because they can find people with linguistic skills. What is important for business is that the number of people taking languages does not go down."

A spokeswoman for the German Embassy bemoaned the falling interest in the German language, blaming poor teaching and traditional English indifference. "If you don't speak the German language you don't know anything about Germany," she said. "The British people don't know about Germany any more. We spend a lot of money and we try hard to increase the interest of British people in German. It's very important for Europe that we all understand each other."

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