At CSS Valencia, we spend a lot of time talking to Spanish teachers in Irish secondary schools, language fairs, transition year exhibitions and conferences. A common topic of conversation is the increasing demand for Spanish at both Junior Cert and Leaving Cert level. Anecdotal evidence suggests that secondary school are struggling to find suitably qualified Spanish teachers, and are also finding it difficult to cater for the demand for Spanish. Many people have started to suggest that the increase for Spanish is coming at a cost to French. So, that leaves us with a question – is Spanish replacing French as the language of choice for Irish secondary school students?
Firstly, let’s look at the facts. All our data has been taken from the State Examinations Commission website, under the “State Examinations Statistics” part of their website.
We analysed the figures over the last ten exam sittings, from 2008 to 2017.
Let’s look at the Leaving Ceritficate numbers first. In 2018, 25383 students sat a Leaving Cert French paper (Higher or Ordinary level). The corresponding number for Spanish was 7085. Going back to 2008, more students were studying French, and a lot fewer Spanish. The Leaving Cert total for French was 27697, with just 2965 sitting the Spanish exam. Since 2008, Spanish has increased steadily. 3277 in 2009 (up 11% from 2008, rounding to the nearest whole number). 3645 in 2010 (up 11% from previous year). 4004 in 2011 (up 10%). 4330 in 2012 (up 8%). 4903 in 2013 (up 13%). 5340 in 2014 (up 9%). 5793 in 2015 (up 8%). 6579 in 2016 (up 14%). 7085 in 2017 (up 8%). That gives a total increase of 4120, or in percentage terms an increase from 2008 to 2017 of 139%.
French has gone in the other direction. In 2008, 27697 students sat a French Leaving Cert paper. In 2009, 27675 (no change percentage wise, rounding to the nearest whole number). In 2010, 27575 (no change). In 2011, 26768 (down 3%). In 2012, 25977 (down 3%). In 2013, 25515 (down 2%). In 2014, 26496 (up 4%). In 2015, 26768 (up 1%). In 2016, 25757 (down 4%). In 2017, 25383 (down 1%). That gives an overall decrease of 2314 students taking a French Leaving Certificate paper over the last ten exam sittings, or in percentage terms a decrease of 8%.
Not surprisingly, Junior Certificate numbers follow a similar trend. Spanish has increased from 4485 in 2008 to 10231 in 2017 (an increase of 128%). French, meanwhile, has decreased from 34147 in 2008 to 31581 in 2017. That’s a drop of 2566 students, or in percentage terms, an 8% decrease.
Let’s look at this another way. In 2008, for every one student who did the Leaving Cert Spanish exam, 9 students took the French paper. By 2017, this had narrowed considerably. For every one student who did the Spanish exam, 3.4 did the French paper.
The change at Junior Certificate level is very similar. In 2008, for every one student who took the Junior Cert Spanish paper, 7.6 students did French. In 2017, for every one Spanish student, there were 3.09 French students.
So – going back to the question we asked at the beginning of this post. Is Spanish replacing French as the language of choice for Irish secondary school students? The figures would seem to support that assertion. Spanish is growing steadily, and shows no sign of stopping while French numbers seem to have peaked and are on a downward curve. Will Spanish overtake French, and if so, when? Where do German and Italian fit in? That’s a discussion for another time. Watch this space!