A lack of language skills among British workers could be costing the UK tens of billions of pounds in missed trade and business opportunities each year.
Teachers have expressed "deep concern" about the current state of language learning in English schools, in a report released today by the British Council and the Education Development Trust.
In the Language Trends Survey 2016, the exam system was identified as one of the principal barriers to language teaching in schools, while in some state schools the small numbers of students opting to take languages at A-Level means that the subject is becoming "financially unviable".
The survey found an overall drop in the number of Modern Foreign Language exams in 2015. The number of French exams fell by 6.2 per cent compared with 2014, while German exam entrants fell by 9.8 per cent and Spanish fell by 2.4 per cent.
At A-Level, one per cent and 4.25 per cent drops were recorded in French and German exams respectively, although Spanish was an exception with a rise of 14 per cent in entries.
The most recent falls in exam uptake are the continuation of a long-term trend in place since 2004, when the government ruled languages should be an optional, rather than a compulsory, GCSE option.
Mark Herbert, head of schools programmes at the British Council, said: "If the UK is to remain competitive on the international stage, we need far more young people, not fewer, to be learning languages in schools.
"The country’s current shortage of language skills is estimated to be costing the economy tens of billions in missed trade and business opportunities every year. More than that, the benefits of learning a language are huge – from boosting job prospects to acquiring the ability to understand and better connect with another culture. Parents, schools and businesses can all play their part in encouraging our young people to study languages at school and to ensure that language learning is given back the respect and prominence that it deserves."
In September 2015, a report by translation specialists Conversis found UK business leaders were finding it hard to operate globally because they can't find new staff who speak other languages.