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Modern Languages

Volume 593: debated on Monday 2 March 2015

The new curriculum requires all maintained primary schools to teach a foreign language to pupils from the age of seven. The number of entries for a modern language GCSE has increased by 20% since 2010 due to the introduction of the English baccalaureate performance measure, a major step towards remedying the enormous damage to foreign language teaching in schools caused by the previous Labour Government’s 2004 decision about the curriculum.

“Ya khochu govorit’ svobodno po-russki”, possibly means “I want to speak Russian fluently.” For somebody of my age, it is an ambition I might hope to reach before I die, but youngsters tend to be more adept at learning foreign languages. Could we do more to encourage even more youngsters to learn Russian, Arabic and Mandarin not only to open doors in their minds, but to make their worth even more attractive in the employment market?

Spasibo, Mr Speaker. The number taking Russian GCSE has increased from 1,500 in 2010-11 to about 2,000 in 2013-14. I agree with my hon. Friend about the importance of languages for the economy, and for learning about other cultures. According to a report by the CBI published in 2014, 65% of businesses say they value foreign language skills, most importantly for building relations with overseas customers.

On the subject of businesses and foreign languages, what work is the Minister doing to get companies more closely involved with secondary schools to make learning foreign languages relevant, and to put the business application and the real-life experience together?

The hon. Lady makes a very good point. The careers and enterprise company recently announced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is doing precisely that—inspiring schools and young people to engage with business in considering their future careers. The importance of that has been shown by other surveys. The Economist this week points to a 2012 British Chambers of Commerce survey of 8,000 British companies, reporting that 96% of them had no foreign language speakers. In a country like Britain—an international trading nation—that is a disgrace and something we are working hard to remedy.

Are not our horizons still too limited? With the advent of IT and refinements in distance learning, should not any child in any school be able to learn any language?

I agree with my hon. Friend that that should be possible, and we are doing everything we can to encourage more young people to study a foreign language. The problem is that a decision was taken by the previous Labour Government in 2004 to remove the compulsory nature of taking languages to GCSE, and that has had a devastating effect on the numbers doing so. We have reversed that trend.