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Foreign Language Teaching

Volume 635: debated on Monday 29 January 2018

Since 2010, the proportion of pupils taking a language GCSE has increased from 40% to 47%. In December, we outlined plans to improve the quality of language teaching in England, where schools with a good track record in teaching languages will share best practice and pedagogy.

I also welcome the Secretary of State to his place. I listened to his answer with great interest. North of the border, Scotland’s future economic prosperity will clearly be dependent on young people having the very best language skills. Would the Secretary of State’s Department be good enough to share—[Laughter.]Would his Department share best practice with the Scottish Government? I think that the Scottish Government would be very grateful.

Language skills are important for young people in Scotland, as they are for those in England. In England, we have looked across the world for examples of best practice in various subjects, and we are happy to share that information with others. I am keen to work collaboratively with the Scottish Government, so that we can both see what we can learn from one another.

Vielen Dank, Herr Sprecher. Do you not agree with me—[Interruption.] I should not have said, “Vielen Dank, Herr Sprecher”; I have completely thrown myself. I should have asked, does the Secretary of State agree that German is an important language to learn? Not only does German give us the grammatical structures that would otherwise be learnt from Latin, which is rarely taught in schools nowadays, but it is easy for British people to speak German with a convincing accent.

Order. May I remind Ministers that there is no obligation to provide multi-sentence replies? There is no prohibition on single sentence replies. In fact, some people think that they are quite desirable.

That is very fortunate, Mr Speaker, as I do not quite know where to go after that. My hon. Friend makes a very good and interesting point about the value of languages.

We were all suitably impressed when Emmanuel Macron spoke flawless English in his candid interview with Andrew Marr the other week. That is no surprise given that 80% of children in EU member states start learning a second language in primary school. What is the Secretary of State going to do to ensure that children in the UK do not fall behind their European counterparts?

It starts with an international outlook and learning about other countries. Of course, it is also about encouraging more teachers to go into teaching modern foreign languages, and we are working hard on that.

The number of entries for GCSE Mandarin has increased by nearly 50% since 2010. Will the Secretary of State continue to support that language and other languages spoken in the world’s fastest-growing economies?

My hon. Friend is exactly right about the importance of Mandarin. Of course, this is a hugely important economy. That is why things like the Mandarin excellence programme are so much in focus at the Department for Education.