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Only English for Students in England

Published: 15.10.2010, Updated: 04.03.2017
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What do you call a person who speaks many languages? Answer: multilingual. What do you call a person who speaks two languages? Answer: bilingual. What do you call a person who speaks only one language? Answer: English. Yes, this is an old joke, but there may be some truth in it, and it may in the future be an accurate description of people from England. English Comprehensive school students don’t want to learn other languages.

Only English for British StudentsOnly English for British Students

Optional Courses

Since 2004, when learning other languages was made optional for English students, more and more students have turned down the offer. For example, over the last eight years the number of students who graduate in French has decreased by 45 per cent. French used to be, but is no longer among the most popular optional subjects. Currently only one out of four English students in secondary school has a foreign language on their timetable.

Business and Industry Concerned

This is alarming news to people in business, trade and industry. The development could be a catastrophe for British reputation and competitiveness on the world market. Head of education and skills in CBI (Confederation of British Industry), James Fothergill, is greatly concerned about the development. It is crucial to be able to make conversation with customers and business partners in their own language, he says. In nearly half of the jobs advertised over the last year where language was mentioned, proficiency in French was required.

Disastrous Situation

One university after the other has had to close down their departments for German or French studies due to lack of students. Even though there is a slight increase in the number of students who want to learn Polish, Chinese, Arabic, and Spanish, this is not enough to balance the overall decline. Also the National Teachers Union states that the situation is disastrous. They say that it is a political responsibility to review the decision to make foreign languages an elective subject. The government intends to do so this autumn.

Study the links below


  1. In Norway, learning foreign languages is optional in (lower) secondary school. Do you think this is a good idea? Why / why not?
  2. List some good reasons to learn another foreign language.
  3. Why do you think English students choose to omit foreign languages from their timetable?