Parlez-vous Francais? Apparently not, any more. With the recent news that GCSE French has dropped out of the top ten choices for secondary school pupils, it would appear that communications between us and our francophone neighbours aren’t going to improve in forthcoming generations.
Taking a more long-term perspective, the number of students studying GCSE French has dropped by 45% in eight years. Although Brits have never exactly been the linguistic answer to Mensa when compared with our European counterparts, French is a language that most of us could always vaguely grasp thanks to our early experiences with tedious vocabulary and grammar lessons at school. We’re a dab hand at asking for l’addition and never forget to say merci, but is this all about to change?
Not without reason, says language learning expert Paul Noble. School-level French is notoriously unhelpful past basic conversation, he says, ‘Even students who come out of doing French A-levels can be surprised at what they can't say - the teaching should be far more conversationally based.’ Furthermore, a modern foreign language at GCSE is now no longer compulsory, so students are opting for seemingly ‘softer’ subjects such as media or religious studies.
But this research does not explain why Spanish is up 16% among GCSE students since 2002, Mandarin has increased by 38% largely because of ambitious pupils with hopes for careers in business and German has become more attractive since it became the central language of the EU’s most dominant economy. These statistics would indicate that students are now selecting the languages that they feel will be most relevant to their lives and job prospects. Far from a communication breakdown, the decrease in the popularity of French when aligned with figures from comparable languages points towards school students actually becoming more in-touch with global development.
The world around us encompasses a myriad of cultures, languages and, increasingly, potential job locations. Practically, it can only be a good thing that students are realising the latent possibilities of exploring other languages aside from seeing French as the solitary choice. The more options that are open to school pupils the better, and Britain can only benefit from its discerning adolescents broadening their perspectives and widening their horizons beyond the English Channel.