Number of language GCSEs plummets as academics warn students are relying on Google Translate

The Telegraph reports that figures published on Thursday by the Joint Qualifications Council (JCQ) show that the number of entries for modern foreign languages (MFL) has fallen by more than 7 per cent per cent overall, with the number of French exams falling by a tenth and German by 13.2 per cent.

Similar declines were recorded in last week’s A-level results, whilst the number of British students taking languages has almost halved over the last two decades.

Commenting on the trend, Professor Alan Smithers of the University of Buckingham said that British children were “spoiled” and had grown up in a “world where everyone speaks English, everything they read and watch is in English or is translated, and when they do need to translate they have access to tools such as Google translate.”

“The Government has been trying to promote the entries into French and German through the Ebacc, it’s part of the core subjects they want to see children taking,” he added.

“We’ve got into a cycle of people not studying it very well, which means that we have fewer teachers, and because we have fewer teachers most students don’t start learning a language until secondary school.

“It’s not surprising that many students fluent in languages have been brought up in embassies or abroad, because they’ve been exposed to it from a younger age. The essence of the problem is we don’t start languages early enough, and bad habits are established.”

The decline has also concerned Government ministers, including the Schools Minister Nick Gibb, who yesterday wrote in The Telegraph that Britain cannot rely “on the ubiquity of English” in order to prosper as a “global trading nation”.

To maintain British economic power, he added that there can be no “excuse for refusing to speak to our customers in their own language.”

Read more Number of language GCSEs plummets as academics warn students are relying on Google Translate

How can schools encourage more pupils to learn a second language? Make it compulsory to GCSE level? Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin

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  1. As a former headteacher and a current director of the French Translation Company, I have significant concerns about UK policy toward language learning.

    We have shot ourselves in the foot by changes in government policy – everyone must learn a language at secondary school, then all primaries must teach a language, then abandoning this policy, wasting all the effort which went into training and recruitment of language teachers, it’s in the measure on GCSE at secondary, then it isn’t, then it is…

    Are we SERIOUS about exporting to the whole world? The old “Everyone speaks English nowadays” ignores the key point “What does your customer want to hear?” (and anyway, it isn’t true – the French are more interested in French than the English are in English).

    Lord Sugar – who knows a bit about business – says in his autobiography that he felt a twit being at European level meetings and being the only director unable to converse in another language.

    When will we learn?

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