From J-Lo to Strictly: why more students are learning Spanish

Writing in the Guardian, Emily Wight says Spanish is helping to reverse the decade-long decline in the number of students taking language GCSEs…

The number of UK students taking GCSEs in a foreign language rose 17% last summer, a turnaround welcomed by educationalists, who warned that interest in the subject area had plummeted over the past decade.

Of the three main language GCSEs studied in UK schools, Spanish is the only one to be increasing in popularity year-on-year since 2011: while entries to French and German this summer remained steady, Spanish continued to soar. The number of students taking the subject is up by almost a third on 2012.

Andrew Hall, chief executive of the AQA exam board, predicts that it is a matter of time before Spanish overtakes French to become the most commonly taught language in schools.

Its popularity is down to a number of a cultural factors, according to Simon Coffey, course tutor of PGCE French and Spanish at King’s College London, who points to Spain’s popularity as a family holiday destination. The number of Brits travelling there this year increased by 5.8% on 2013: “We’re always asking people why, and the same reasons crop up – the perceived importance of Spanish in the world and also the fact that people go on holiday there and we can’t underestimate the importance of that as a factor.”

Memories of a week in Benidorm with mum and dad don’t make Spanish cool – that’s down to Shakira. Yes, really. Coffey points to the growing mainstream appeal of American Latino culture that has followed in the footsteps of fast food, hip-hop and Hollywood to become an American cultural export to the UK. “Spanish is cool partly because of the holiday factor in the European sense but also because it’s got Jennifer Lopez, Shakira, all the famous Latino singers in the States,” he said. “French and German don’t have that sort of global appeal because they’re not present in youth culture in the same way.”

Kristina Hardy, a Spanish teacher at Helenswood Academy in East Sussex, agrees. She has noticed that students are attracted to the Latino culture they see on TV. “Students are used to hearing Spanish more in music – like Shakira. They go mad listening to her songs,” she said. TV programmes such as Strictly Come Dancing, which features traditional Latin American dances such as the paso doble and the tango, have had an influence, she adds.

According to Coffey, Spanish appeals to a much wider audience. “German and French have for a long time now suffered from a sort of class prejudice – they tend to appeal in particular to middle class children, whereas Spanish has a much more democratic appeal for reasons which we need to research, and it seems to appeal to a broader range of socio-economic groups.” The gender gap of Spanish students is narrower, with more boys studying the language, he adds…

More at: From J-Lo to Strictly: why more students are learning Spanish


Do you agree that Spanish has a ‘cool factor’ that isn’t there for French or German because of its greater profile in popular culture and music? Any other reasons you can think of? And if this is the case, how can French and German fight back? Please give us your ideas in the comments or via Twitter…


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  1. Janet2

    Two reasons why Spanish is gaining in popularity: it’s one of the major languages along with English and Mandarin.  And it’s easier to learn than French – it’s mainly regular, has far fewer accents and pronunciation is easier.

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