The effects of Brexit on modern foreign languages

Back in June former Secretary of State Damian Hinds visited the Emirates Stadium with a group of pupils from Sheffield Park Academy, to witness how the Arsenal football team is helping pupils learn languages. The Double Club initiative harnesses the diversity and popularity of the sport and the team itself to illustrate what future opportunities are offered to individuals speaking multiple languages.

In a post-Brexit United Kingdom, and the announced beginning of a “golden age” for the country, languages should be seen as the gateway to gain prime access to the world stage. Damian Hinds, days before leaving office, highlighted once again the importance for pupils to learn foreign languages: “With all the changes we have got coming in the world of tomorrow with our place in the world and in a post-Brexit world, it’s more important than ever that we have a really global outlook, are really plugged into the rest of the world and in understanding other cultures”.

A BBC analysis published early in the year showed the a continued decline in pupils deciding to learn a new language, with an overall drop of more than 3 percentage points in numbers of GCSE language courses taken since 2013. The fall affected mostly the German and French languages, while Portuguese, Polish, Arabic and Chinese, among others, seeing a considerable increase.

The top 10 localities with the biggest falls in entries were mainly heavily leave-voting areas. The areas mostly affected by the decrease between 2013 and 2017 were Knowsley, Poole and South Tyneside – as indicated by the Department for Education. Additionally, in three Local Authorities no teachers taught GCSE German in any of their schools.

In the report Language Trends, released by the British Council last month, these trends have been confirmed. They have also looked more closely at how Brexit changed the attitude of parents and pupils towards foreign languages. Contrary to the idea of a United Kingdom getting prepared to open itself to the world, some parents question the need to learn a foreign language after leaving the European Union. Similarly, there are pupils who do not think they will need to learn another language, as they will not be able to enjoy the EU freedom of movement and the opportunities the Erasmus+ programme has to offer.

Multiple sources seem to highlight the negative impact of Brexit on this, but mainly due to a change of perspective rather an actual change of conditions. All of this adds to the challenge that Brexit will represent for foreign teachers’ recruitment in modern foreign languages. More information on this and the overall impact of Brexit on British Education can be found in our whitepaper, ‘What impact will Brexit have on the teaching profession?’ – Click here to download the whitepaper.

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