Spanish is the official language of 21 countries, with more than 400 million native speakers. This makes it the second most spoken language in the world, after Mandarin Chinese. It is also the third biggest language of the World Wide Web.
This global coverage makes Spanish attractive in the eyes of language learners everywhere. It has arguably replaced French both as the second most studied language worldwide and the second language in international communication, after English.
Foreign language learning in the UK
Brits aren’t particularly known for their affinity towards learning foreign languages; one can even argue a lack of such affinity. Whether this happens because they already speak the lingua franca of the world, their education law has not been foreign-language-learning-friendly until recently, or because of the faulty marking system of language learning subjects, it really doesn’t matter. The bottom line is that this year’s number of GCSEs in foreign languages has been, unsurprisingly, lower than that of STEM subjects.
French, the most popular foreign language in UK classes, dropped by 3% compared to last year (from 177,288 in 2013 to 168,042 in 2014); German also dropped, by 1% (from 62,932 in 2013 to 59,891 in 2014).
It’s disappointing to see that recent growth in the number of foreign language GCSEs has stalled. Just three years after we hit a record low, and with the lack of language skills costing the UK economy almost £50bn a year, we can’t afford to stand still.
Vicky Gough, Schools Adviser at the British Council
Spanish learning in the UK
Well, Spanish does not stand still. It is the only foreign language not declining at A-level. 2014 is in fact the sixth consecutive year of growth for Spanish. Compared to ten years ago, this year’s number of Spanish GCSEs is approximately three times higher!
But what makes this language swim against the current? Lesley Davis, Vice President at Pearson, has some answers to why this happens:
We know it’s becoming an increasingly important language for business, with our recent Pearson/CBI Skills Survey shouting that half of employers want Spanish speakers. Young people are also more exposed now to Spanish culture, from music to food to high-profile Spanish speaking personalities, such as footballer Lionel Messi. It’s no surprise that it’s become the second modern foreign language of choice in the classroom.
Also, Spanish is an easy-to-learn language for English speakers compared to other languages on the rise, such as Arabic, Mandarin, Russian or Japanese. As a Romance language, it shares some roots with English, and this similarity means Spanish is likely to attract a broad language-learning public in the UK.
Will Spanish become the UK’s favourite foreign language?
Here’s a suggestion: