The number of pupils studying a second language at Standard grade has dropped from 100 per cent in 2001, when it was compulsory, to 67 per cent in 2001, the British Council stated in a report based
on its Europe-wide survey of language teaching.
Moreover, the removal of most foreign language assistants from classrooms – in budget cuts – has dashed any chance to interact with native speakers.
Lloyd Anderson, director of the British Council in Scotland, said: “Something seems to be going backwards. Over the past 10 years things have gone from good to less good. This report appears to confirm our fear that Scotland could be missing out on export opportunities if we simply expect everyone to speak English.
“Language learning is a vital component of being good ‘global citizens’. In an increasingly globalised and interconnected world, our young people and future workforce will be at a disadvantage if they lack language skills and cultural awareness.”
The British Council released its findings as the Scottish government prepared to spell out its plans for all Scottish children to learn two languages in addition to their native tongue. The emphasis is on primary school, with exposure to the likes of French, German, Spanish and Mandarin for young children.
Dr Alasdair Allan, minister for learning, launched a pilot for nine primary schools at a summit in Stirling last week.
Sarah Breslin, director of Scotland’s National Centre for Languages, said the profession had to challenge the notion that English is enough. The government proposal is “very ambitious but exactly what Scotland needs”.
Labour MSP Neil Findlay said the government could launch “initiative after initiative, but it can’t hide from the
depressing findings of the British Council report”.
The British Council said: “Scottish employers tend to circumvent rather than address language skill needs by exporting only to Anglophone countries or those where they can easily find English speakers.”
Dr Allan said the government aimed to increase the value of exports by 50 per cent by 2017 and to ensure that the workforce had the right skills to compete internationally.
The British Council report cited severe financial pressures for language departments at Scottish universities, threatening the viability of some lesser-taught languages. As for further education, the most recently available data from the Scottish Qualifications Authority showed that modern language provision was “on the verge of total collapse”, the report said.