Only one in three schools in England make all pupils study a foreign language at GCSE level, according to a new survey commissioned by the National Centre for Languages. 97% of independent schools keep languages until 14, but only 30% of state sector schools. This figure has dropped from 57% just one year ago.
The reason? Since September schools in England have no longer been required to teach foregin languages to children over 14. Curriculum changes have simply led to languages being squeezed out.
I have to admit that I was more or less the worst at languages in my year at school. I scraped a B at O-level in French and a C in Latin. It wasn’t until I went to live in Belgium that I learned to speak French and subsequently Flemish.
But it’s a good thing that I did. When I went to work for Lucas Automotive as a senior manager, I got the job partly because I was able to conduct half of my interview in French.
Unless we only buy from ourselves, the Australians, the Americans, and a few others, and unless we only sell to these same markets, language learning is fundamental to our commercial future. As a German business man once put it to me, ‘if you want to buy from us, you can speak English, but if you want to sell to us, you must speak German.’
Britain can simply not afford to abandon language learning. It is time that government looked to the future.