‘Urgent action’ needed over decline in language learning, Cambridge University warns

Report warns that the lack of language skills has a major political and economic impact

Cambridge University is calling for a major rethink of the government’s approach to language learning, arguing that it should not be the responsibility of the Department for Education alone.

A report from the university, published today, said the UK was struggling with a “skills deficit” on foreign languages that had “wide-reaching economic, political and military effects”. The university is calling for “urgent action” from the whole of government to tackle the issue.

It comes after TES revealed last week that the OCR exam board, which is owned by the university, was to stop providing GCSEs and A-levels in French, Spanish and German.

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.”

The report urged the government to address a series of “imminent or immediate problems”:

  • 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
  • The UK’s “soft power” in conflict and national security matters is being eroded because of “a shortage of speakers of strategically important languages”.

The Department for Education has been contacted for comment.

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