Berlin Hauptstadt

Government plans to tackle decline in German language learning

The number of pupils taking GCSE’s and A-Level’s in foreign languages has dropped again this summer, with German language learning seeing the biggest decline.

German, Spanish, and French have seen a drop in the number of A-Level entries this year, with German seeing the largest percentage drop (17%) of any subject on the curriculum, from 2675 to 2210 entries.

German also saw a fall in GCSE level entries, dropping by almost 6%, while French and Spanish saw a small rise in pupils taking exams, rising by 0.3% and 4.6% respectively.

Andrea Pfeil, Deputy Director and Head of Language Department at the Goethe-Institut London, said: “Learning a language as early as possible gives you a big advantage and gives you another view of the world, and that’s desperately needed to be able to see things from different angles and perspectives.

“It’s a shame that studying a foreign language is not mandatory in the UK as this is an important skill which every student should be able to access.”

The Goethe-Institut, a cultural association promoting the study of the German language abroad, is participating in a new nationwide Languages Hubs programme formed by the government earlier this year.

Within this programme, the Goethe-Institut will facilitate the German Promotion Project, working with schools and teachers with the specific goal of raising the profile of studying German in-depth, up to GCSE and A-Level.

FALLING NUMBERS: The number of pupils taking German A-Level has declined over the last ten years

Led by University College London and funded by the Department of Education with a £14.9 million investment over three years, the programme seeks to boost the number of pupils taking modern foreign languages, as well as to promote heritage languages spoken by UK pupils, such as Polish and Bengali.

Miguel Berger, German Ambassador to the United Kingdom, said: “The decline in the numbers of pupils studying German is dramatic.

“I am hopeful that the German Promotion Project can reverse this trend, incentivising and encouraging language learning across the school sector.

“Learning languages opens gateways into other cultures, fostering friendship, trust and understanding across borders.”

A report by the British Council, ‘Languages for the Future’, identified German as one of the top priority languages to advance the UK’s skills and influence in the world, alongside Spanish, Mandarin, French, and Arabic.

The report took into consideration both economic and non-market factors, such as the language needs of UK businesses, diplomatic and security priorities, and international educational development.

Considering how the post-Brexit climate affects interest in language learning, Pfeil said that pupils were often disappointed about the impact of Brexit on opportunities to make flexible study and work plans in Germany.

She noted that by choosing to learn languages when given the option, pupils could show that they are interested in closer cooperation to Europe.

She said: “Brexit is sinking in and it’s important to ensure that the consequences are addressed on both sides in a way that does not put too much of a barrier in between. There are little things which can bring us closer together eventually.

“Making sure there is the opportunity to ensure we still understand each other, at least by being able to understand each other’s language, is really important.”

Alice Hopkinson-Woolley, 23, studied German at GCSE and A-Level, and during her time at school participated in a cultural exchange project with the UK-German Connection, a bilateral government initiative which seeks to improve contacts between young people in the two countries.

Her experience on the UK-German Connection’s German Pupil Course in Friedrichroda, where she stayed with a host family and visited cultural attractions with pupils from across the UK and from the German host school, motivated her to apply to study German at the University of Oxford.

She spent her Year Abroad living in Vienna, Austria, where she taught English through the British Council’s English Language Assistants (ELA) programme, which sends around 2500 students and recent graduates from the UK to support the teaching of English in 14 destinations around the world each year.

She said: “Having the opportunity to study multiple languages and being encouraged to do so is what I value most from my time at school.

“It led me to a wonderful university degree, the opportunity to live abroad, and diverse career prospects.

“But on the flip side, having taught English in Austria for a few years now, seeing how much they value language learning here in comparison to the UK puts the UK to shame.

“I hope it’s not too late for a turnaround.”

Related Articles