Modern Languages

Declining Popularity in Modern Languages at School

For many years, taking a language subject at O level and then more recently GCSE, was an essential requirement for entry onto a university course. This began to fall out of favour and there is a probable connection between this lack of emphasis on modern languages at school and the seeming lack of popularity of foreign language degrees.

Modern Languages at University

At the University of Cambridge, applications to study a European language fell from 580 in 2010 to 385 in 2014, considerably increasing the chances of a student gaining entry to one of these courses, but a worrying statistic for this University and many others. At King’s College London, there were 1,165 applications which had dropped by around half to 575 four years later. UCAS, the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, confirms that numbers are falling across the board, at all institutions.

Working Towards a Solution

This decline has not gone unnoticed by academics, politicians and business leaders, and the fear is that if it were to continue at the same rate over the next five years, modern language departments in universities would be forced to close due to dwindling numbers. The Russell Group of Universities has now begun to reinstate the preference for a modern language at GCSE among all students regardless of their degree choice. In reality, though, no university will turn away a good student with a hatful of top A-Level results who does not have a modern language qualification gained at the age of 16, particularly as this can be picked up as a bolt-on course alongside degree studies when at university.

Time to Adapt

The lack of interest in and dwindling popularity of modern language degree courses seems somewhat counter-intuitive, as today, more than ever, in our global village people are travelling and working abroad and also encountering different ethnicities and languages via the Internet; there has never been a better time to consider studying a modern language at degree level. Some analysts believe it is due in part to the fact that English is spoken so widely across the world which provides less incentive. There is also a definite trend among those students who do want to study modern languages to a different type of course from those of old. Three-language degree courses are becoming increasingly popular with the opportunity to study around the subject. Increasing interest in the development of language and the culture of native speakers means that institutions have to move with the times and change their course offering if they wish to remain viable and attract the best students.


[Image source: Accessed: 18 June 2018]

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