UK adults ‘forget school French’

BBC News

Language lesson

Half of adults in the UK have forgotten the languages they learned at school, a survey suggests.

Two fifths of the 1,000 people polled by ICM regretted not keeping up their language skills after leaving school.

Most people thought languages were important in everyday life and 52% said they were important to a career.

The survey findings are published as children across Europe are celebrating language learning as part of the European Day of Languages.

Many secondary schools will use the day to promote the importance of learning languages, as fewer students have been taking traditional modern languages at GCSE in recent years.

French – down 6.8%
German – down 5.4%
Spanish – up 4.9%

The latest figures show the number taking French has slumped by a third in four years, although language experts say they hope the trend is now slowing.

German has also continued to fall – from 81,061 in 2007 to 76,695 this year – a drop of 5.4%. In 2004, 122,161 students sat a GSCE in the subject.

It comes after the government scrapped the requirement to take a language in England’s schools from the age of 14 in 2004.

Spanish has been steadily growing in popularity, but from a lower base. Entries rose by 4.9% on last year – from 63,978 to 67,092.

Other modern languages – such as Chinese and Arabic – are also growing in popularity although the totals are comparatively small.

The day organised by the Council of Europe and Cilt, the National Centre for Languages, aims to kick-start language learning for children and adults alike.


Sixth form students at a school in Battersea will share their language skills with first year pupils through taster sessions in a number of languages including Arabic.

Parents will be joining in the language fun at many schools too. In Camberwell, south London, they will be entertaining pupils with songs in different languages.

And in Uckfield, East Sussex, parents will give children classes in Turkish, German and Welsh.

Cilt chief executive Kathryn Board said: “Although the day is mostly about having fun with languages, it’s also important – particularly in secondary schools – to bring a more serious message: that languages have a vital role in our society and that by giving them up pupils will miss out on valuable experiences both personally and professionally.”

She added: “Adults who can’t commit to regular evening classes do not have to put their language learning on hold.

“Brushing up on languages learnt at school or starting a completely new language can fit around other commitments and can even become a family activity with parents and grandparents learning with their children.”

The ICM poll for language software specialists Rosetta Stone found that more people had kept up their sporting activities or maintained friendships made at school than had carried on learning the languages they were taught.

Just 4% had kept in touch with their foreign exchange pen-pal.

But most agreed that languages are important in everyday life, the survey found.

More than half (52%) said languages were important to a career.

And more than two thirds (69%) said they were jealous of people who were able to speak another language fluently.

Of those who can speak another language, 61% said it had been of benefit to their career, with a third (34%) saying their language skills have given them opportunities to travel and work abroad.


2 responses to “UK adults ‘forget school French’

  1. I would like to argue the case for learning and using Esperanto. It is a planned language which belongs to no one country or group of states.

    Take a look at

    Esperanto works! I’ve used it in speech and writing in a dozen countries over recent years. Indeed, the language has some remarkable practical benefits. Personally, I’ve made friends around the world through Esperanto that I would never have been able to communicate with otherwise. And then there’s the Pasporta Servo, which provides free lodging and local information to Esperanto-speaking travellers in over 90 countries.

  2. Can I add my support to the comment about Esperanto?

    I also hope that the “European Day of Languages” encouraged many people to learn a new language. Especially in the United Kingdom where the interest in learning languages seems to be declining.

    You may know that four schools in Britain have introduced Esperanto, the neutral international language, in order to test its propaedeutic values?

    The pilot project is being monitored by the University of Manchester. Why not extend this project to other countries as well? Further academic appraisal is essential.

    An interesting video can be seen at

    Otherwise might help ?

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