There has been a drop in more than 40 % in the number of school children in Northern Ireland taking GCSE French since 2010. GCSE entries in German saw an 18 % drop over the same period from 2010 – 2018.
A report by the British Council shows that modern language learning is becoming increasingly marginalised within the curriculum, with a significant decline in the number of pupils learning languages at both GCSE and A-Level.
Spanish is the language most frequently taught in Northern Ireland's schools, followed by French, and then Irish.
The first Language Trends Northern Ireland report surveyed over 300 primary and post-primary schools and follows previous research into modern language teaching in both England and Wales.
Results were similar at A level with a 40% decrease in students taking French and a 29% decline in those taking German.
On a positive note, the survey showed that the number of students taking Spanish at GCSE has risen by 16%.
Many who responded to the survey believed languages were no longer valued in Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, and the uptake had declined since languages had lost their compulsory status at Key Stage 4.
Other barriers given for the decline included the perceived level of difficulty of languages at GCSE and A-level. It is also thought that other factors included competition from heavily promoted STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths) subjects, the closure of university language courses, Brexit and a preference for more ‘practical’ vocational subjects.
At primary level, the report found that just 55 per cent of primary schools surveyed provided some form of language teaching and after excluding voluntary and after-school provision, this figure fell to 33 per cent.
Unlike in England and Scotland, learning a second language is not a statutory part of the primary school curriculum in Northern Ireland and many teachers surveyed would like to see the return of the Primary Modern Language Programme, which was funded by the Department of Education until 2015.