As thousands of teenagers collected their GCSE language exam results last month, a new study from Skyscanner shows that, while 93% of those surveyed learned a language at school, less than a quarter of respondents are at ease speaking the language when abroad, with almost half admitting they “only use a few words”.
The main reasons given for limited use of local languages was found to be lack of vocabulary (49%); lack of confidence in understanding replies (22%); embarrassment (9%); and knowledge that the locals speak English (11%).
Fears are growing that a falling number of linguistic students will lead to a worsening situation; a decade ago 80% of secondary school children studied a foreign language, but that number has dropped to just 48% *. The study showed that those that do learn languages at school have greater confidence when trying to speak the language overseas; 53% are willing to speak or hold short conversations in a foreign language compared to only 33% of those who didn’t study a language, while those who didn’t learn a language are twice as likely not to try to speak at all.
However the study also revealed that education is not the only factor in improving the plight of the monoglot Brit - an impressive 90% claimed that travelling to a country made them keener to learn a language.
Combine this with the fact that travel experiences abroad can now count towards the Certificate of Personal Effectiveness (equivalent to an A grade at AS level worth 70 UCAS points), mandatory travel abroad may be the key to encouraging languages and boosting chances of securing a university place.
“With the vast majority of travellers motivated by overseas travel to boost their language knowledge, it’s clear that even a short break to Europe can prove inspiring, said Gareth Williams, Skyscanner CEO.
“Of course students looking to boost their language skills in order to make them more employable should bear in mind the increasing importance that countries such as Brazil, Russia, India and China will play in the future global economy.”