Spanish on the rise in the United Kingdom

by Silvia Vazquez

Despite Brexit raising concerns about isolation and lack of interest in other cultures, Spanish is becoming more popular in Britain and it could soon be the most studied foreign language at school level if current trends continue.

The popularity of foreign languages in British schools has been decreasing since 2004 after the government's decision to remove the subject from the compulsory curriculum at Key Stage 4, when students follow courses that lead to national qualifications such as GCSE (General Certificate of Secondary Education). According to a recent study by the British Council, ‘Language Trends 2019’, a survey-based report that includes more than 1,600 primary and secondary school teachers across England, entries for GCSE languages have seen a decline of 19% over the past five years. However, whereas numbers for French and German have dropped by 30% each, the reduction for Spanish is just 2% showing that it has more stability than the other two languages at that stage of the education system. At A-Level, a main school leaving qualification in Britain, the situation of Spanish is even more promising as while French and German have been steadily declining since the mid-90's, entries for Spanish have been increasing almost every year. The report anticipates a rise of 10% for the 2019 intake.

Traditionally, French and German were the languages taught at schools and universities across the UK, but Spanish has been growing its importance over the past 20 years and, based on the above trends, it is expected to overtake French as the most popular foreign language in British schools both at GCSE and A-Level. Back in 2004, it had already overtaken German as the second most studied language in Britain. At university level, Spanish is also the pupils' favourite language, the British Council has found based on a survey carried out in 2016 and included in the ‘Languages for the Future report’ (2017 edition). It is taught by 70 universities at degree level across the UK and, according to the report, it has had 'fewer departmental closures than other languages'. This study has produced a table of the ten most important languages for the UK where Spanish ranks first and it is followed by Mandarin, French, Arabic and German as the top 5.

In the same light, a 2018 report by the Cervantes Institute, El español: una lengua viva. Informe 2018, highlights that Spanish is seen as the most important language for the future in the UK, even after Brexit. As mentioned above, the withdrawal from the EU and its potential implications in terms of indifference to other European cultures does not seem to be affecting the rise of the Spanish language across Britain. Francisco Oda, head of the Cervantes Institute in Manchester said to the Spanish newspaper El País last July that despite initial concerns that Brexit would bring a decline in the number of enrolments at their centres, “they have oddly increased”.

The Cervantes Institute report states that in the two main English-speaking countries, i.e. the UK and the US, the interest to learn Spanish is particularly high and that Spanish is considered to be the most important foreign language in both countries.

SOURCES

Language Trends 2019. Language teaching in primary and secondary schools in England. Survey report. British Council.

El español: una lengua viva. Informe 2018. Instituto Cervantes.

Languages for the future (2017 edition). British Council.

‘Why Spanish is fast becoming Britain’s favourite foreign language.’ El País 15/07/2019

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