Scotland has seen a “worry- ing” fall in the number of pupils studying languages, it has emerged.
There are now fears that the next generation will not be equipped to deal with the demands of the global economy.
There has been a dramatic fall in the number of youngsters sitting French and German, although more are learning Spanish.
Opposition parties called on the SNP to focus on the “day job” of running schools. But ministers insist there has been a rise in the number of pupils gaining languages qualification at Higher level.
There were more than 56,000 pupils taking modern languages at Standard Grade level a decade ago. By last year, under the new exam system, this had fallen to just over 23,000 – a 59 per cent decline.
Labour’s shadow education minister Daniel Johnson said: “Learning a foreign language is such a valuable skill for Scotland’s next generation.
Whether for travel, employment or just breaking down barriers between people from different countries, a new language can open up the world to a young person.
“It is therefore incredibly worrying to see such a huge decline in the number of pupils sitting modern language courses. The SNP talks about connecting Scotland with the world, but that can only happen if people are equipped with the languages they need. In the 21st century, the workforce is becoming more global and economic growth here in Scotland depends on interaction with our European neighbours.
“We need to reduce as many barriers to economic growth as possible, and these figures show how important it is for SNP ministers to get back to the day job of improving standards in our schools.”
The number of pupils sitting French has fallen by two-thirds since 2007, while the number studying German has fallen by 76 per cent.
But ministers say that more youngsters who choose languages are sticking with them to a higher level, with a growth in those who sit and pass languages at both Higher and Advanced Higher level. A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Language skills are important for children, which is why we are committed to enabling all young people to learn two languages in addition to their mother tongue in school through our 1+2 policy.
“We have provided £24.2 million directly to local authorities to help them implement the policy and they are making good progress towards expanding and improving language learning.
“Individual schools choose which languages they teach, taking account of their local circumstances.”