Urgent action required over decline in language learning, Cambridge University cautions

A report conducted by Cambridge University has called on the government to rethink its approach to language learning.

The study has argued that it is not just the responsibility of the Department for Education (DfE) alone and that the UK was struggling with a skills deficit on foreign languages that would have ‘wide-reaching economic, political and military effects’.

The news comes after exam board OCR said it would stop providing GCSEs and A-levels in French, Spanish and German.

The report outlined that language learning is in decline throughout the education system, from schools to universities. It warned that university language departments and degree courses were being forced to close; UK companies are losing business because of a lack of language skills; and the UK’s ‘soft power’ in conflict and national security matters is being eroded because of ‘a shortage of speakers of strategically important languages’.

Professor Wendy Ayres-Bennett, professor of French philology and linguistics at the university, said: “It is vital that we communicate clearly and simply the value of languages for the health of the nation. English is necessary, but not sufficient. We cannot leave language policy to the Department for Education alone."

“We need a more coordinated cross-government approach which recognises the value of languages to key issues of our time including security and defence, diplomacy and international relations, and social cohesion and peace-building.”

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