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Only one in 25 primary pupils takes foreign language

September 24, 2012

JUST one in 25 primary school pupils is learning a foreign language – as Ireland continues to lag far behind its European neighbours.

Ireland and Scotland are the only countries where learning a foreign language at school is not compulsory, the new report published by the European Commission revealed yesterday.

Only around 4pc of primary pupils learn a foreign language – usually French. This compares with 100pc of children picking up foreign language skills in Austria and Italy, where it is compulsory. Yet the report paints an entirely different picture at EU level as it reveals children are starting to learn foreign languages at an increasingly early age. Most children begin when they are between six and nine.

The importance of teaching foreign language skills made headlines earlier this year when online company PayPal revealed it was having trouble finding Irish workers with the necessary language skills to fill 1,000 new jobs.

The IDA, which is charged with attracting foreign investors, admitted it was “challenging” for multinationals to find workers with foreign languages. Cara Greene, education manager at the Science Foundation Ireland- funded Centre for Next Generation Localisation ( CNGL) at DCU, said foreign languages were essential throughout the school system to ensure there are “people there to fill the jobs in the future”.


The Government cut the budget for 2012 for the Modern Languages in Primary Schools Initiative ( MLPSI), which supports the learning of foreign languages in over 550 primary schools nationally.

“It is really about having the skills there for the future, if you are cutting it this early it doesn’t look good for jobs in language services in the future.

Ms Greene highlighted the importance of the growth of localisation – which combines foreign language skills with computers and allows companies introduce products to new markets in their own language – as a boom industry.

“We’re struggling to get people now and it is so important there is actually jobs in the area. We want students to do the crossover of languages and computing in college,” she said, emphasising this required a strong languages base at both primary and secondary level.

The department last night said the languages taught at primary school level were being reviewed.