Tuesday - 25 September 2007
Foreign language study in compulsory and upper secondary schools 2006-2007
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, 26 September, and refer mainly to pupils during the school year 2006-2007.
Increasing number of young pupils learn English
English is the first foreign language taught in compulsory schools and also the most commonly learnt 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 2006-2007 they were 29,730. Never before have more pupils studied English. The number of pupils learning Danish has decreased and now 18,106 pupils in compulsory schools learn Danish. A total of 158 pupils selected Swedish and 125 selected Norwegian instead of Danish.
A few schools start teaching foreign languages earlier than stipulated in the reading plan. More 6 year old pupils learnt English than ever before. In 2006-2007 the number of students learning English in grades 1-3 of compulsory school has increased by 70% from the previous school year, from 1,111 to 1,879.
The number of pupils in compulsory schools learning Spanish continues to increase
Many compulsory schools give pupils the option of selecting a third foreign language after English and Danish. Until the school year 2004-2005 most pupils opted for German or French. Since then Spanish has become the second most popular language after German. In 2006-2007 633 pupils opted for German and 530 for Spanish. French was third, selected by 262 pupils. The popularity of Spanish continues to increase. The number of pupils studying German has also increased by 7.7%, a turnaround from previous years when the number of students decreased year by year.
A comparison with the Nordic countries and the OECD
On 18 September 2007 the OECD published Education at a Glance 2007, with indicators on education. The publication includes data from the school year 2004-2005 on instruction time for modern foreign languages as a percentage of total intended instruction time. When the age groups 9-11 and 12-14 years old are examined, the data depict the Nordic countries using more hours for foreign language study for 9-11 year olds than Icelanders use. In Iceland, 4% of instruction time is used to study foreign languages, but 6-12% of instruction time in the other Nordic countries. The average for the OECD countries is 7%. A different story emerges when examining 12-14 year old pupils. At that age Icelandic pupils learn both English and Danish and use 17% of total instruction time to teach foreign languages, while the OECD average is 12%. It should be noted that these are data from the school year 2004-2005 and since then the number of hours used to teach English has increased considerably in the youngest grades in compulsory education in Iceland.
More than 17,000 students at the upper secondary level learn foreign languages
During the school year 2006-2007 there were 17,703 students at the upper secondary level who learnt a foreign language, or 72.4% of all pupils at that level. The previous year there were 17,307 students learning a foreign language or 74.2% of all pupils at the upper secondary level. The number of students learning foreign languages has decreased between these school years by 1.8 percentage points.
English is the most commonly learnt language at the upper secondary level with 15,039 students during the school year 2006-2007. Danish is the second most commonly learnt language with 8,676 students. These languages are obligatory in most programmes at the upper secondary level.
German is the third most studied language. During the school year 2006-2007 there were 4,701 students learning German, 19.2% of pupils at the upper secondary level. Spanish is next with 3,144 students, 12.9% of all students at the upper secondary level. A total of 2,621 students studied French, or 10.7% of all students.
More students at the upper secondary level learn Spanish
Between the school years 2005-2006 and 2006-2007 the proportion of students who studied foreign languages dropped, with the exception of students learning Spanish. The proportion of students learning Danish dropped the most, or by 2 percentage points, while the proportion of students learning German decreased by 1.7 percentage points. The proportion of students learning German has decreased year by year since the start of the data collection by Statistics Iceland in the autumn of 1999, but at the same time the proportion of students learning Spanish has increased annually.
The difference in language study between the sexes has decreased
Girls tend to be more numerous than boys among students learning foreign languages. During the school year 2006-2007 a similar proportion of males and females learnt foreign languages, when excluding the Roman languages. A total of 72.3% of males and 72.5% of females at the upper secondary level learnt foreign languages. Slightly more males (20.3%) than females (18.2%) studied German. The opposite is true for French and Spanish. In 2006-2007 14.3% of female students at the upper secondary level learnt French but only 6.6% of males. The same is true for Spanish, which is studied by 16.3% of females but only 8.9% of male students.
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. Then 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.