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ATC says language skills are vital as French and German GCSE numbers decline

The Government needs to recognise the vital importance of language skills to the economy, according to the ATC, as today’s GCSE results show a fall in the number of students studying French and German across the past decade.

The number of pupils who took a French GCSE has fallen by 37% from 201,940 pupils in 2008 to 126,750 this year, according to figures produced by the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) alongside today’s GCSE results.

It was a similar picture for German, with today’s JCQ statistics showing 44,535 students sat a German GCSE exam this year, which was a drop of 42% compared with the 76,695 in 2008.

After last week’s A level results also showed a decline in the number of pupils studying French and German, we are continuing to press for the Government to take action to improve the UK’s language learning.

The decline in numbers comes despite the recent British Council ‘Languages For The Future’ report revealing German was the second most sought after language in business and France was the UK’s second most important non-English speaking market. The UK is also home to a £1 billion language sector employing more than 12,000 people.

But we fear the long-term effects of the decline in European language study – particularly German – could reduce the number of qualified translators in the UK at a time when a post-Brexit Britain needs to communicate effectively with key trading partners.

Ruth Partington, ATC Vice Chair and CEO of Bristol-based RP Translate, said: “The decline in pupils studying German and French is very worrying in the long term as it means fewer people in the UK will be able to communicate effectively with European businesses in the future.

“Yet following Brexit, translators will have an increasingly important role to play in winning new European contracts. It’s so often the case that foreign companies are happy to speak English when they sell to firms in the UK, but if they are buying from UK companies it’s better if we can talk their language.”

As fewer modern language pupils go through the system, there are also declining numbers of students applying to study European languages at university, with the most recent UCAS analysis of undergraduate applications revealing one of the three subject groups with the fewest applications in 2017 was European languages, literature and related subjects (17,970 applications), which was a 6.2% drop from the previous year.

The University of the West of England (UWE) in Bristol is one of many universities up and down the country which is no longer offering language degrees to students.

Ruth added: “For a city such as Bristol which owes much of its heritage to global trade, it’s shocking and disappointing that UWE no longer offers language degrees.  Lots of schools are also coming under pressure to scrap language A Levels too.

“The Government needs to develop a much greater awareness and understanding of how critical language is to the UK economy. Educational establishments also need to reassess language learning as a vocational skill before it’s too late.”

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