I’m a little fascinated by the table that Steve Smith has reproduced here which stretches the not inconsiderable period from 1993, including 1994 when I got my A* in French, all the way to today, including a small group of students I taught. Of all the people getting GCSE grades in French in 2014, I taught 0.008% of them for less than half their GCSE! Go me! There were 13,000 of us who got A* when I did and 16,000 this year.
All of this slightly silly numbercrunching led my friend Matthew to produce this graph
And I wondered about the relative popularity of French, German, and Spanish, went back to the amazing home of GCSE data tables and produced this graph:
Spanish is clearly now more popular than German and is continuing to climb, but is a long way away from “replacing French” as this Independent article claims.
Some other points – you can see why it is hard to get a languages teaching job if you have no French at all. And yet it is increasingly common for strong languages graduates only ever to have had the opportunity to study one language at school.
The Indy article speaks of Spanish as an important world language gaining in popularity but I’d argue this is a very North / South American perspective. German is far more common in Europe as this fascinating Wikipedia paragraph points out:
German is the main language of approximately 95 to 100 million people in Europe, or 13.3% of all Europeans, being the second most spoken native language in Europe after Russian (with 144 million speakers), above French (with 66.5 million) and English (with 64.2 million).
I guess we are not talking European Union languages for the factoid about Russia to be true. Spanish languishes in 5th place in Europe.
I left university in 2000 with a 2:1 in French and German with an equal emphasis on the two languages. French has always been my stronger language and I still have a much wider vocabulary and more comfortable grip on the grammar. By the end of my degree I felt a bit of a failure in German – my language module marks were the lowest, I was very poor at university level translation, and I pretty much made a promise never to become a German teacher.
On the way into teaching, however, I was made to feel that my German skills were vitally important, and that anyone who could vaguely pronounce Staatsangehörigkeit or spell Eierschalensollbruchstellenverursacher had a moral responsibility to wade into the modern languages battle and staunch the flood of candidates away from German.
My students regularly ask why they can’t learn Spanish and I only have flippant answers. There’s no-one in school who could teach it, for starters. If you want to learn Spanish, the school would have to fire all the current language teachers and hire new ones. My favourite flippant response to “Why can’t I learn Spanish?” is “I’m not stopping you. Feel free.”