The decline of languages in schools and universities

Every year at the end of August we see the TV and papers flood with news about GCSEs and A levels, with arguments for and against the tests and people always complaining about how easy they are getting. Of course, languages are always at the top of the list.

So, when a friend sent me a link to an article titled, Who still wants to learn languages?, I was surprised. “Again another article about how easy languages are GCSEs are getting”. However this article goes beyond the August results and talks about the problems languages are facing everywhere, even at university level.

Due to the crisis and cost cutting some universities are cutting down on the language courses they offer. It seems that when money is low, languages are one of the first to go.

Is language learning really in decline?

However, leaving aside the obvious cross-cultural relation building, brain developing, family links building advantages and others for bilingualism, there are business reasons to keep languages alive. There is more and more need for language skills in the business world. Although, in my opinion, we should be careful and not generalize. Knowing a language alone is probably not going to help you get a better paid job. But having a skill set and knowing a language is going to broaden the possibilities for you. For instance, an aeronautical engineer with French may well have more chances working for one of the French owned companies making planes in Bristol.
In the Guardian article the author gives a few reasons why some languages are losing out, German is too hard, learning a language is a long term thing and people want results here and now, among them. I agree with her, most people want results quickly and learning a language once you are a teenager or adult means that you probably have to go through the grammar, vocabulary list, learning type of route.

But the article is not all gloom and doom, Aida lights a candle at the end of the tunnel by means a piece of information, namely primary schools introducing compulsory languages in 2011. Well, that sounds nice, doesn’t it? Of course, as the supporters of this scheme tells us that if you introduce languages to a younger audience they will learn to love them even sooner. Well, that theory is debatable, it depends on many factors, do you like your teacher? is your teacher a person who makes people love language? Are you being bullied in school? Is your school one of those where teachers have to spend more time keeping order than teaching?, etc


  1. It is something that shocked me greatly when I came to this country 11 years ago from Spain. The rest of Europe is promoting the teaching of a SECOND foreign language in schools. This in the norm. Not to talk about Swiss children and those from Belgium. Even in USA the norm is learning Spanish from a young age. I can not understand this “I am an island” attitude towards languages. Learning a language is not considered a skill anymore. When it is scientifically proven that learning language develop further the grey matter of the brain. Even Welsh language schools the foreign language until is too late, in High School.

    • Hi, thanks for your comment. Yes, you’re right. Especially, since the teaching of language in primary schools in the UK seems to be a waste of time. Because there is so much freedom for schools, each school seems to have its own independent curriculum, which means that some teach languages, some don´t, and the levels are not at all measurable, so secondary schools don’t have a way of knowing what level the students starting at Y7 will have, so the result is that they start teaching the language from scratch. Students who did language in primary school get bored and students who didn’t feel a bit shy next to their peers who seem to know more than them!

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