Spanish, most popular elective extra-curricular language in English higher education

Now ahead of French, while German is being overtaken by Chinese.

One of the most startling things for me in SW France has been the elevated proportion of people who speak basic to pretty good Spanish. Historical migrations, including the influx during and following the Spanish Civil War, help explain this, but from the amount of business the Instituto Cervantes is doing in Toulouse I think it also reflects the increasing influence and popularity of Spanish worldwide. More evidence for this is to be found in these figures from Nick Byrne at LSE (Powerpoint here), which suggest that Spanish has edged out French as the most popular language among English under- and post-grads, with German a distant third:

  • French 23%
  • Spanish 24%
  • German 13%
  • Chinese 11%
  • Italian 7%
  • Japanese 7%
  • Russian 6%
  • Arabic 5%
  • Others 4%

This kind of neutral observation, particularly when accompanied by doubts as to the wisdom of banning Spanish from Catalan schools, tends to lead to bouts of hysterics from Catalan nationalists. Maybe the latest unemployment statistics will give them pause for thought.

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  1. I think you’re misinterpreting the stats. There’s a reasonable chance that students will have been able to learn French and German during secondary education, so it’s not surprising that Spanish and Chinese show up more strongly in post-secondary schooling.

  2. Nun, I think “learn” is the wrong verb to describe what happens to French and German in English secondary schools. “Educate to GCSE ‘C’ standard” is the phrase I would choose, and it usually results in a student with zero communicative ability in said language.

    You are right to identify the lack of a Spanish option pre-16 in English schools though. Given it is the foreign language with which English speakers have most contact, it should certainly be more available than German.

    Even so, these figures are astounding. When I went to 6th form college there were 5 students studying Spanish, compared to 19 studying French and 11 studying German.

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