Spanish takes over second place from German as second-most studied language in UK schools; Chinese way up too

Friday, December 05, 2008

Here's one of a number of articles on the subject today, showing this to be relatively big news. None of it is surprising, however.

Spanish has replaced German as the second most popular language learnt in schools, it was revealed yesterday. And the number of state schools offering Mandarin as an option has more than trebled in the past two years from one in 25 to more than one in seven.

The figures are revealed in the annual census of secondary schools compiled by the Centre for Information on Languages Teaching, which also shows that the dramatic decline in languages since it was made optional for 14 to 16-year-olds has halted for the first time. However, there has been no increase in take-up.

The census also suggests a revolution in the language options offered in secondary schools. The figures show 75 per cent of state schools are now offering Spanish compared with 67 per cent offering German. French remains the most popular language, with 99 per cent offering it.

The number of schools offering Italian has doubled in the past two years from 9 per cent to 18 per cent while Mandarin has risen from 4 per cent to 14 per cent.

The Times Online also gives another reason for the rising popularity of Spanish:
The shift reflects changes in cultural attitudes and in the global balance of economic power. It is also possible that teenagers are wising up to the possibility that Spanish may easier to learn than German.

So does that mean that learning German is less worth it than before? That is, does the decline of German in schools imply that learning the language isn't really that wise a career move? Not necessarily: as shown in a huge number of articles recently, Latin is beginning to increase in popularity after a long period of decline, and because the existing staff capable of teaching the language are retiring in large numbers, it's becoming extremely difficult to find qualified teachers to teach the language: in short, in the middle of the horrendous economy we've suddenly found ourselves in, Latin teacher is just about the easiest job you can get if you happen to be qualified for it.

It's the same thing with German: if we assume that trade between Germany and the UK isn't declining but at the same time the number of students learning German are shrinking, eventually it will become that much rarer a skill in the workforce while at the same time demand will remain unchanged.

The general formula goes as follows: the less influential the language the fewer the number of positions available in the workforce for those that speak it, but at the same time competition is that much lower as well. IOW, positions are few and far in between but are easy to get for those that are qualified. For more influential languages there may be a large number of positions for which "able to speak language x" is a requirement, but if there is a large pool of people with this skill then it makes it that much harder to stick out.

Conclusion: study what you like.

Final note: Spain has been working to try to get Spanish accepted as one of the working languages of the EU (the current working languages are English, French and German) so they'll be happy with these numbers.


Anonymous said...

I've been waiting for this to happen for a long time and it finally has - doesn't suprise me at all. German is harder than Spanish and I suppose Spanish has the chic factor that German lacks. German is still the language for me though. I've got a feeling that German will be a rarity one of these days. German speakers in the UK are already considered to be exceptional people.

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