For a long time, many Britons have modestly spoken about their language skills across the border. “Oh no, most of us don’t even speak proper English,” is often heard with a healthy dose of British self-deprecation. However, in recent years, the number of secondary school students in the United Kingdom taking A-level exams in French or German has become extremely scarce.
Experts recently warned that the newest generation of British teenagers runs the risk of becoming typical ‘little Englanders’: the type of Britons who cannot communicate effectively in places around the world where English is not spoken well.
The problem is not easy to solve. There are not only too few students studying German and French but also too few teachers. After the Brexit referendum in 2016, when the British voted for their departure from the European Union, quite a few teachers from Germany and France returned to their home countries from the UK. Without teachers from abroad, the British struggle to fill all the vacancies in their schools. The UK itself does not train enough foreign language teachers.
In desperate attempts to lure teachers from France and Germany back, a relocation bonus of £10,000 has been offered to them. Additionally, 175 scholarships have been established, each worth around €30,000, intended for French and German individuals who want to pursue a teaching career in the United Kingdom.
Particularly British boys are currently sidelining language studies. According to the experts in The Times, they are afraid of ’embarrassing themselves’ in class, for example, by mispronouncing words. Oral exams are simply scarier than written tests in subjects like mathematics.
The fact that many school trips, often organized around language subjects, have disappeared since the COVID-19 pandemic also plays a role. Those trips used to motivate some students.
The only language escaping this decline is Spanish. Nowadays, 7 percent more British students are taking A-level exams in Spanish at the highest level than in 2013. However, this increase pales in comparison to, for example, the 45 percent decrease in the number of students taking German A-level exams.