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Most popular foreign languages with UK school students


The UK is falling behind other countries when it comes to studying foreign languages. The European Commission’s Flash Barometer Report showed that in April 2018 only 32% of 15-30 year olds in the UK felt confident reading and writing in two or more languages, compared to 79% in France, 91% in Germany, and 80% on average across EU member states. In 2019, The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Modern Languages went so far as to call it a language crisis, pointing out that the lack of language skills is costing the UK 3.5 per cent of GDP.


The British government has been trying to improve this situation and promote the teaching of foreign languages, and it is now compulsory at both Key Stage 2 (ages 7-11) and Key Stage 3 (ages 11-14) to study modern languages. They are also taught at both GCSE (ages 14-16) and A-level (ages 16-18).


According to the latest report from British Council, Spanish remains the most popular modern foreign language with A-level students, outnumbering French for a third year in a row. In academic year 2020/21 it was chosen by 8,300 students, followed by French (around 7,500 students), and German (around 2,500 students). At the same year, about 297,000 students took modern language GCSEs in England. 20% of all pupils chose French, 17% - Spanish, 6% - German. The dominance of these three languages isn't really surprising considering that they are taught at most schools (including primary schools) in the country.


Thanks to campaigning and following discussions between the government and exam boards, UK pupils also still can take GCSEs and A-levels in the so-called “community” languages - lesser-taught, minority languages. They include:


Arabic

Chinese

Dutch

Gujrati

Irish

Italian

Japanese

Modern Greek

Modern Hebrew

Persian

Polish

Portuguese

Punjabi

Russian

Turkish

Urdu

Welsh

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