Monday - 25 September 2006
Foreign language study in compulsory and upper secondary schools
Statistics Iceland has published data on students in compulsory education and in upper secondary schools learning foreign languages. The data are published for the European Day of Languages, September 26th, and refer mainly to pupils during the school year 2005-2006. Older data are used for comparison.
English is the most commonly learned language in compulsory schools
English is the first foreign language taught in compulsory schools and also the most commonly learned language. Most pupils in compulsory schools start learning English in 5th grade and Danish in 7th grade. The number of pupils learning English has increased year by year and during the school year 2005-2006 there were 28,782 pupils learning English. Never before have more pupils studied English. The number of pupils learning Danish has also increased and now 18,237 pupils in compulsory schools learn Danish. A total of 226 pupils learned Swedish and 127 learned Norwegian instead of Danish.
A few schools start teaching foreign languages earlier than stipulated in the reading plan. The number of students learning English in grades 1-3 of compulsory school has more than doubled, from 506 pupils during the school year 2004-2005 to 1,111 during 2005-2006.
Many more students in compulsory schools learn Spanish
Many compulsory schools give pupils the option of selecting a third foreign language after English and Danish. For some years most pupils have opted for German or French. The school year 2005-2006 most pupils opted for German (588), Spanish came second (467) and French third (260). The popularity of Spanish has grown enormously as the number of pupils studying Spanish has tripled in only one year. The number of pupils studying German has decreased, and their number has dropped from 945 during the school year 2003-2004.
Over 74% of students at the upper secondary level learn foreign languages
During the school year 2005-2006 there were 17,307 students at the upper secondary level who learned a foreign language, or 74.1% of all pupils at that level. The previous year there were 16,651 students learning a foreign language or 73.7% of all pupils at the upper secondary level. The number of students learning foreign languages has increased by 656 between these school years which amounts to almost half a percentage point.
Number of students learning foreign languages in the last three years is stable
From 1999 to 2002 data were only collected on students learning a foreign language during the autumn semester which is why comparisons with those years should only be undertaken using data on pupils in the autumn semester. Figure 2 depicts the proportion of students at the upper secondary level who learn a foreign language in the autumn semester and additionally shows the proportion of all students learning foreign languages during the school years 2003/2004-2005/2006, i.e. including students in the spring semester. The number of students learning foreign languages has been fairly stable since the school year 2003-2004, with around 74% of upper secondary students learning foreign languages.
Girls tend to be more numerous than boys among students learning foreign languages. During the school year 2005-2006 75.7% of girls at the upper secondary level learned foreign languages while the corresponding figure for boys was 72.5%. The difference between the sexes is 3.2 percentage points. However, this difference is smaller than at times in the past. In 1999 the difference between girls and boys was 6.9 percentage points. At that time 73.7% of girls at the upper secondary level studied foreign languages and 66.8% of the boys.
Fewer students learn German at the upper secondary level
English is the most commonly learned language at the upper secondary level with 14,698 students during the school year 2005-2006. Danish is the second most commonly learned language with 8,738 students. These languages are obligatory in most programmes at the upper secondary level.
German is the third most studied language. During the school year 2005-2006 there were 4,892 students learning German, 21.0% of pupils at the upper secondary level. Spanish is next with 2,780 students, 11.9% of all students at the upper secondary level. A total of 2,746 students studied French, or 11.8% of students. This is the first time that students in Spanish outnumber students in French when student numbers from both autumn and spring terms are considered. When only looking at the number of students in the autumn term students learning French outnumber students learning Spanish. The number of students learning German and French has decreased proportionally since the autumn 1999 when 26.7% of students at the upper secondary level learned German and 12.5% learned French but only 4.4% learned Spanish. The number of students learning Spanish has increased year by year. It has to be taken into account that figures are not fully comparable between years except for the autumn term, as previously noted.
About the data
Data on compulsory schools are collected once a year, in the spring, for the whole school year. In upper secondary schools data were collected in the autumn until the year 2002 when the data collection was changed and information collected both from schools and from the central database of the upper secondary schools, INNA. Older data only refer to students in the autumn semester but after the school year 2002-2003 the coverage of the data collection was increased and information also gathered on students studying foreign languages in the spring semester. However, the data only include students studying foreign languages in the spring who are registered students in the autumn semester of the same school year. Information is only collected on living foreign languages. Students in Latin, classical Greek and Esperanto are therefore not included.