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Call to reverse decline in Modern Languages taught in Welsh schools

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The Welsh Conservatives are calling on Labour Government in Cardiff Bay to reverse the declining trend in pupils taking up modern foreign languages, highlighting the benefits of bilingualism as a reason to adopt a third language.

On International Mother Language Day, the shadow ministers for education and the Welsh language have thrown their weight together to call for a concerted drive to increase the uptake of foreign languages (MFLs), the teaching capacity, and the amount of lessons pupils receive at an early age.

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They would also like to see a framework that allows schools to become centres of excellence that specialise in MFLs.

In the 2021 election, the Party committed to discounting tuition fees for those studying MFLs at university.

Welsh Conservative Members of the Senedd Laura Anne Jones and Samuel Kurtz believe that the falling numbers of pupils taking up MFLs is negatively impacting the life chances of Welsh pupils and the success for bilingualism here is an ideal launch pad to build a “trilingual Wales”.

A recent Language Trends Wales report conducted by the British Council outlined some concerning statistics about MFL learning in Wales that included:

  • GCSE entries for French and German had almost halved between 2015 and 2021, and by 11% and 12%, respectively, in the past year alone;
  • GCSE entries over the past two years for languages other than French, German, Spanish, and Welsh have declined significantly from 626 in 2018 to just 175 in 2021, a 72% drop;
  • 46% of responding secondary schools either do not have post-16 provision or do not offer international languages in the sixth form; and
  • 78% of schools reported a negative impact from the Covid pandemic on language learning.
  • The report also noted that teenage population in Wales is growing slightly, so any decline in the numbers of students studying languages cannot be attributed to falling school enrolment.

It noted that, by contrast, in England there were noticeable increases in French and Spanish from 2019 to 2020 (although there was a 2% increase in the GCSE-age school population) and that for the first time since records began, Spanish attracted over 100,000 entries, almost double the 2005 total.

Laura Anne Jones MS, the Welsh Conservative Shadow Education Minister, said: “Foreign languages in our Welsh schools are in serious danger of going extinct. There is an urgent need to address this, if we are going to future-proof education and arm our children with the tools they need to be able to compete on an international stage, which is how our country is moving now post-Brexit.

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“We know those who speak multiple languages benefit on numerous fronts and gain transferrable skills that would serve them well in adulthood, ensuring they can compete in competitive future job markets, travel and put them on a par with and lovely playing field with the rest of Europe, and the world.

“Labour cannot continue saying Wales is an open, international society, when it fails to enthuse pupils to take up foreign languages, and are unable to recruit the necessary teachers to do so.

“That’s why the Welsh Conservatives will be campaigning hard for a shift in approach from the Labour Government, that aims at increasing the provision and take-up of foreign languages within the New Curriculum for Wales and possible changing of the structure of the school day – modern and the likes of mandarin, so the next generation can live in a skilled and prosperous trilingual Wales.”

Samuel Kurtz MS, Welsh Conservative Shadow Minister for the Welsh Language, said: “We are proud defenders of the Welsh language because, from it, we see that bilingualism is a positive force in Welsh society. Data suggests those who can speak more than one language have a higher level of employability and increased cognitive function.

“However, as a country, we shouldn’t just be limiting ourselves to two languages.

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“Given the success of Welsh in demonstrating the benefits of bilingualism, International Mother Language Day is a great time to promote our calls for a concerted drive to increase the uptake of MFLs, so more people can experience the gift of speaking multiple languages.”

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