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language exams

UK Exports Could be at Threat as Students Continue to Shun Language Exams

As students take a well-earned rest from the stress of exams and the gruelling wait for results, analysts are busy assessing the numbers that define the success of our education system. Topping the talking points this year are the subjects pupils are choosing, as ‘traditional subjects’ become more popular and students move into ‘uncharted territory’ with the new A-levels coming this September.

The rise of English, maths and sciences comes at the expense of language exams which continue to fall, leaving experts concerned about the business impact this will have on the UK’s place in a global market. So what are the wider implications of foreign languages fading in the UK and why are more students turning their back on language exams?


Could the UK one day lose its international voice?

The general consensus for many in the corporate world is that English remains the first business language. There’s strong argument too when numerous industries like aviation and computer programming are based around English and it remains the language to learn for many people around the world.

However, it’s international trade that has experts worried about the UK’s lack of language skills, as the market becomes increasingly global and multilingual. “It is no longer possible to presume that all business will be done in English,” John Longworth tells The Independent. “We have to remember that young people are competing for jobs in a global marketplace,” he says.


“It is no longer possible to presume that business will be done in English and we need to remember that young people are competing for jobs in a global marketplace.”

John Longworth, director general of the British Cambers of Commerce


It’s not just individuals who disadvantage themselves by turning their back on language learning either, but the nation’s interests that are also at stake. In the same Independent report Vicky Gough, schools advisor at the British Council says, “the reality is that as this general decline continues, the UK risks falling behind on the world stage,” as employers cry out for language skills which we fail to provide in this country.


Why are fewer students taking language exams?

Rather than looking to the future, journalist Sarah Marsh takes a different approach in her article for The Guardian and asks teachers why they think the number of students taking foreign language exams continues to fall.

From the students’ perspective there are two reasons that stand out: first that language GCSEs are too difficult and the persistent idea that English is the only language needed in this world.

Consider the number of GCSEs a student has to balance, plus the stress that comes with their first taste of important exams, and it’s understandable that adding language exams (which are widely considered the most difficult) would be unappealing. The important question here is, why are they so difficult – is it the exams themselves or because our approach to teaching them isn’t good enough?


Why are language GSCEs so difficult – is it the exams themselves or because our approach to teaching isn’t good enough?


The simple answer would be to make exams easier in the hope that more students sign up to take them, but how much would this solve when most existing language students can only understand basic phrases? The fact is our education system is letting down the language needs of our pupils and the UK’s economic interests in one fell swoop. And, if the issue isn’t addressed, our native language could soon become a disadvantage rather than a benefit in a multilingual marketplace.