Spanish is set to overtake French as the most dominant foreign language studied in UK schools, according to the head of the AQA exam board.
Andrew Hall, AQA’s chief executive, made the prediction based on this year’s GCSE statistics, in which a record number of students sat for Spanish GCSEs, even as foreign language entries declined overall. Approximately 93,000 students took the Spanish exam this year, 2,000 more than last year. Meanwhile, the number of French entries declined from from 177,288 to 168,042 and the number of German entries declined from 62,932 to 59,891.
Why is Spanish making gains even as other languages fall? Some educators are calling it the “Messi effect,” crediting the popularity of Argentinian football player Lionel Messi, but that’s far from the whole story.
As Andrew Hall told The Telegraph, learning Spanish is increasingly being seen as a smart career move for students:
“It is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world. I went to factories in California where people had to have Spanish as a fluent second language. I think more and people are speaking Spanish. I think students recognise that it is a very important language to have.”
In The Independent, Pearson vice-president Lesley Davis referenced the “Messi effect,” but also underlined the importance of Spanish to UK businesses:
“We know it’s becoming an increasingly important language for business with our recent Pearson/CBI Skills Survey showing that half of employers want Spanish speakers. Young people are also more exposed now to Spanish culture from music to food to high-profile Spanish speaking personalities.”
Meanwhile, Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, told TESConnect that more students were choosing to “work smarter, not harder” by choosing Spanish, which is considered one of the easier foreign languages to learn:
“It’s very similar to our language in many ways,” he said. “It’s quite a straightforward structure. They find French more difficult, particularly because of the accent and so on. A lot of schools have found it’s a very popular subject.”