High-profile Spanish-speaking personalities such as football star Lionel Messi are helping to fuel the numbers of young people choosing to take the language at GCSE, it has been claimed.
The “Messi impact” was cited as a reason for a rise in entries for GCSE Spanish this year, with exams chiefs also suggesting that savvy students are attracted to the language because they believe it will help their future prospects.
GCSE results show that Spanish was the only one of the three traditional languages to see an increase in entries this year, with German and French both dropping.
In total, there were 93,028 candidates for Spanish GCSE, up 1.9 per cent from 91,315 last year and up 28 per cent from 72,606 in 2012.
Andrew Hall, chief executive of the AQA exam board, said that the language was going from strength to strength.
“I think it’s only a question of time before it becomes the most popular language,” he said.
Lesley Davies, director of quality and standards at the Pearson exam board, said that Spanish is becoming an increasingly important language for business.
“Young people are also more exposed now to Spanish culture, from music to food to high-profile Spanish speaking personalities such as footballer Lionel Messi. It’s no surprise that it’s become the second modern foreign language of choice in the classroom.”
Mr Hall said that more students are recognising that Spanish is a useful language.
“I’ve talked about savvy students before, you won’t be surprised that I’m going to do it again,” he said. “That’s what they are. They’re saying ‘this language really helps me’.”
Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), suggested that English students can find Spanish easier to learn than some other foreign languages.
“It is also a very popular subject, a lot of people go on holiday to Spain and so there has been a motivation for that,” he said.
“The key thing for us is that people should be learning languages full stop.
“If you learn a language you learn a skill of learning a language, that is as important as which language you learn. I remain concerned about the drop in languages overall.”
The latest figures show that entries for GCSE French are down around 5.2 per cent on last year, and German entries are down around 4.8 per cent.
Vicky Gough, schools adviser at the British Council, said: “It’s disappointing to see that recent growth in the number of foreign language GCSEs has stalled. Just three years after we hit a record low, and with a lack of language skills costing the UK economy almost £50 billion a year, we can’t afford to stand still.
“The only silver lining today is that Spanish has bucked the trend and continues to grow, with slight increases in the small number of students taking Chinese, Portuguese and Russian. All of these feature on the list of languages the UK most needs in the British Council’s recent Languages for the Future report. But this isn’t enough to compensate for the long-term declines in languages like French and German, which employers still value very highly.
“From next month, all children will start learning a language at the age of seven, and this is definitely a positive step. But it will be years before those children take their GCSEs, so we need to continue working hard to ensure that all our young people realise just how important language skills are for life, work and the UK’s future.”