In 2006 we highlighted how we were taking part in efforts to help stop the decline in language learning and to improve the “work readiness” of language graduates to help minimise the impact on the translation profession.
The European Commission recently predicted a serious shortage of native English speaking interpreters due to the fact that English has replaced French as the working language of the EU’s civil service.
Data available from CILT shows a mixed bag with regard to language learning trends.
At secondary level, worryingly, the proportion of all pupils taking languages at GCSE has continued to decrease in recent years. 78% of all pupils were taking a language in 2001, 68% in 2004, 59% in 2005, 51% in 2006, 46% in 2007 and 44% in 2008. The year-on-year percentage decrease has slowed however, which may be due to initiatives such as Business Language Champions.
Main findings from the higher education sector were:
• a 6% overall decrease from 2002/3 to 2006/7 in first-degree language undergraduates, at a time of increases in total HE first-degree students across all subjects.
• the number of first-degree language undergraduates in UK higher education suffered large decreases at the end of the 1990s. These decreases are still apparent but have slowed down and started to level out in recent years.
• numbers of students taking undergraduate courses in Spanish and Portuguese have been consistently increasing over the past 9 years. Chinese and Japanese have both experienced increases in numbers since 2002/3. Modern Middle Eastern studies students had also been rising since 2002/3. Russian suffered from large decreases at the end of the 1990s, but 2006/7 saw a slight increase in student numbers (5%) compared to 2002/3.
• the number of students taking degrees in Italian has decreased significantly over the past 9 years. Compared to 2002/3, 2006/7 saw a 16% decrease in first-degree undergraduate student numbers in Italian Studies. French and German suffered large decreases in student numbers at the end of the 1990s. The decrease in German is still apparent (10% decrease in 2006/7 compared to 2002/3), but that in French has slowed down in recent years (4% decrease in 2006/7 compared to 2002/3).
Some encouraging data is emerging from The DCSF with regard to language learning in primary schools. The DCSF research on language learning at KS2 indicates that 84% of schools were providing languages within class time. This has risen from 70% indicated in the 2006 survey findings.
2007 DCSF research found that French was the most common language taught in primary schools in England, followed by Spanish, German and Italian. 89% of all schools providing primary languages offered French, 23% offered Spanish, and 9% offered German. A small number (under 3%) offered Italian, Chinese, Japanese or Urdu.
It has been shown that numbers of language students are still falling in the secondary and higher education sectors, but not as quickly and so hopefully all the work being done by CILT and its partner organisations is starting to pay off. By the time today’s primary school pupils have moved on to secondary and higher education, let’s hope that the culture of language learning will be firmly embedded and we will not be facing a crisis in the translation and related language sectors.