Number of students taking more than one foreign language is on the rise

French is by far the most popular foreign language at Leaving Cert level, followed by German.

The number of students taking more than one foreign language for Leaving Certificate has jumped in the last two years.

A total of 1,063 Leaving Certificate students took two or more languages other than English or Irish last summer. This was 15% more than the 923 in 2015 and 925 the year before.

A new languages strategy to be launched soon by Education Minister Richard Bruton aims to significantly increase the choice of languages available in schools, and the number of students who choose them as Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate subjects.

Figures obtained by the Irish Examiner show just over 40,000 students sat a Leaving Certificate language subject last June, just over 100 more than in 2015.

However, the number who took two languages was up from 885 in 2014 and 879 in 2015, to 1,008 in 2016.

The numbers taking three languages are much smaller, but proportionately they are also rising significantly. They rose from 37 to 42 between 2014 and 2015, and up to 53 last summer, representing a 43% rise in two years.

Figures only refer to subjects for which a recognised curriculum is taught in schools, and do not include non-curricular languages.

French remains by far the most popular option in Irish schools for Leaving Certificate. The 25,758 school-leavers examined in it last summer were 1,000 fewer than in 2015, but that was still well over three times the 7,600 who did the next most popular language, German.

However, numbers taking German were up nearly 800 in two years, and entrants for Leaving Certificate Spanish were up nearly a quarter to 6,500 in the same period. Italian is growing significantly in popularity, but was taken by just over 500 in June 2016.

The non-curricular EU language subjects are not timetabled within schools but exams are set by the State Examinations Commission each June, with numbers fluctuating between 1,300 and 1,500 in recent years.

The most commonly-sat of these Leaving Certificate subjects is Polish, which accounted for just over half of the 1,425 exams taken, followed by Lithuanian (202), Romanian (167), and Portuguese (92).

The most common curricular language remains French, but it is no longer as totally dominant as in the past. Part of the Department of Education foreign languages strategy will seek to widen the choice of languages on offer, with plans to have more available during the three-year junior cycle, and to have full Leaving Certificate courses in Mandarin, Polish, Lithuanian, and Portuguese.

While the Leaving Certificate figures may be encouraging for such ambitions, a reverse trend is evident in the numbers sitting multiple languages for Junior Certificate.

The total taking one or more language subjects for Junior Certificate has hovered between 50,500 and 51,200 in each of the last three years.

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