Should learning a foreign language be compulsory?

Nowadays, English schools offer a meagre range and variety of languages to students to learn at GCSE-level or even just a lunch-time club. Less and less children are picking up languages; the three main ones are usually French, Spanish and German. That said, a lot of schools only offer French.

In England, between the ages of 7 and 14 students must learn one language at school, however, the British Council says that 50% of primary schools in the UK teach a language for no more than 45 minutes per week. When I was in primary school, these lessons covered no more than colours or animals in that target language – which was French. Why not learn Spanish, though, when it is the second most spoken language in the world (with approx. 480 million speakers) French is ranked 15th (77 million speakers), according to the 2019 edition of the US Ethnologue.

Since 2002, according to the BBC, there has been an overall 45% decrease in students taking up a language at GCSE across the UK: German being at a 67% decrease and French at 63%. However, there is still hope as Spanish is increasing in numbers of candidates and is now the most popular A Level language –since 2002, there has been a 43% increase in A Level candidates for the Southern European language. French language GCSE entries have dropped by half between 2011 and 2018, according to the Joint Council for Organisations. Since the 2014 publication of the National Curriculum, 75% of British primary schools offer French, 25% offer Spanish and only 5% offer German, according to GOV.uk. In the UK, the proportion of GCSE candidates (16 years old) who take a language in 2018 was only 47%. This fluctuation is not good, and with Brexit, the number of candidates taking languages will only decline.

Brexit has no doubt had a negative impact on language learning in schools, but especially in state schools. A report by the British Council states that since leaving the EU, over a third of state schools has said that there has been a highly negative attitude towards language learning from their pupils and little to no motivation to do so.

But why learn a language, what are the benefits?

  1. Allows younger people to become more open-minded and understanding of the differing cultures world-wide, whilst also giving them a chance to connect with people from all around the world by use of their language and linguistic skills
  2. There are many cognitive benefits, too, with being bilingual. It is suggested that Dementia occurs in bilinguals more than 4 years later than monolinguals (71.5 years average age of Dementia among monolinguals compared to 75.5 years) , and mental ageing is slowed. Other day-to-day benefits include better memory, creativity and flexibility and tolerance, critical-thinking skills, listening skills and multitasking.
  3. In terms of academic benefits, learning a language at GCSE or A Level standard helps improve university applications, as well as career prospects, no matter the sector you are going into for work: according to the “New American Economy” the number of U.S job offers specifically aimed at bilingual candidates increased by more than 50%.
  4. You can earn more. According to “Kwintessential”, in the UK employees earning the national average of £25,818 can earn over 12% more, as companies are keen to higher job candidates knowing 2 or more languages.
  5. You will increase your global political, social and cultural knowledge.
  6. Better job prospects abroad. STEM subjects have 30% more job employability abroad –so it’s not just learning a language on its own, but alongside other important subjects like sciences and maths.

Languages should start to be prioritised alongside STEM subjects at school. Schools should make it compulsory to learn a language at GCSE level, and offer a wide range of languages for the students to choose from: in particular Spanish and Mandarin, which are the two most spoken languages currently worldwide. Brexit means that this prioritisation is increasingly important for the UK, for trade and cultural purposes. The TS Council released a review in 2017 stating that only 34% of all GCSE language results are “moderately good” in one language, at only 5% obtain “moderate” results in two languages at GCSE.

It is said that only 34% of Britons can speak more than one language fluently, compared with 56% amongst Europeans, according to ‘Eurostat’ – this limits the Brits’ chances of employability but also narrows their cultural knowledge and often tolerance and acceptance.

Why are Brits so reluctant to learning a language? Personally, I believe that the general feel is a lot of British people think that English is the lingua franca and so learning another language is redeemed as ‘pointless’ or ‘irrelevant’. Little do they know, English is the third most spoken language in the world with only 20% of the globe speaking it as their first language, although out of the 195 nations in the world 67 of them speak English as their ‘native’ or ‘official’ language. British people live in what I like to call the ‘European bubble’ or the ‘Western World’. A lot of our population think that English is spoken everywhere, for example on holiday, and when a resort or holiday place does not speak English all too well, they become frustrated and find it hard to understand why. Mandarin and Spanish are the top languages in the world – so why are these languages not taught in primary school?

Learning a language not only increases your cognitive abilities, but gives you so much more: cultural prosperities, acceptance of differing societies, social cohesion and maintenance.


If you only take one thing from reading this blog post, have this: please pick up a language to increase your cultural understanding and knowledge. Plus, it’s fun to be able to speak (and think!) in another language!

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