Statistics Iceland has published data on students in compulsory education and upper secondary schools learning foreign languages during the school year 2011-2012. The data are published for the European Day of Languages, 26 September.
The data show that there have never been more pupils in compulsory schools learning Spanish, while the proportion of students of Spanish in upper secondary schools drops for the first time in the Statistics Iceland data collection.
More pupils in compulsory schools learn English
English is the first foreign language taught in compulsory schools and also the most commonly learnt language. During the school year 2011-2012, 33,937 pupils learned English in compulsory schools, 80.1%. That rate has never been higher since Statistics Iceland started publishing data on pupils studying foreign languages in 1999. English lessons usually start in grade 4 but English is frequently taught in grades 1-3. Last school year 4,976 pupils in grades 1-3 studied English or 39.2% of pupils in these grades (6-8 years old). Five years earlier, during the 2006-2007 school year, 1,879 pupils in these grades learned English, or 14.8%.
The same development can be observed in other European countries, i.e. teaching foreign languages at an earlier age is becoming more common in compulsory education. The number of hours dedicated to foreign languages in Europe has not increased as much as the number of students. In Iceland the number of 40 minute teaching hours devoted to teaching English and Danish every week in all ten grades of compulsory education has increased from 32.9 in 2000-2001 to 34.9 in 2011-2012.
Almost one thousand students in grades 1-6 learn Danish
Most pupils start learning Danish in grade 7, at the age of 12. A total of 956 pupils younger than 12 years old learned Danish in 2011-2012. In many schools pupils who know Norwegian or Swedish can select those languages instead of Danish. Last school year a total of 108 pupils selected Swedish rather than Danish and 77 pupils learned Norwegian.
The number of pupils in compulsory schools learning Spanish increases year by year
The number of pupils in compulsory schools learning three foreign languages had decreased since their number was greatest during the school year 2001-2002, (1,656, 3.8% of pupils) until last school year when their number increased again. In 2011-2012, 1,022 pupils learned three foreign languages or 2.4% of pupils. The third foreign language is usually taught as an elective in Icelandic compulsory schools. Last school year 624 pupils in compulsory education learned Spanish, 255 pupils selected French, and 252 pupils learned German.
More than 19 thousand students at the upper secondary level learn foreign languages
During the school year 2011-2012 there were 19,342 students at the upper secondary level who learned a foreign language, or 74.0% of all pupils at that level. This is a slightly higher proportion of students than last year. To find a higher proportion of students at the upper secondary level learning foreign languages it is necessary to go back to the school year 2005-2006.
Fewer students at the upper secondary level learn many foreign languages
On average, students in upper secondary schools learn 1.36 languages during the 2011-2012 school year, which is fewer languages than in previous years. The average number of languages learnt has not been lower since Statistics Iceland started publishing comparable data in 2002-2003. The main reason is that fewer students learn many languages, which coincides with fewer students selecting the language line of study in recent years.
A lower proportion of upper secondary students learn Spanish
English is the most commonly learnt language at the upper secondary level with 16,091 students, 61.5% of students at the upper secondary level. Danish is the second most commonly learnt language with 8,269 students; 31.6% of students at this level. These two languages are compulsory for most students at the upper secondary level. German is the third most studied language. During the school year 2010-2011 there were 4,547 students learning German; 17.4% of students at the upper secondary level. Spanish is in fourth place with 4,179 students; 16.0% of all students at the upper secondary level. The number of students learning Spanish had increased year by year, but now the proportion of upper secondary students learning Spanish decreases from the previous year by one-half percentage point, from 16.5% of students in 2010-2011. French is in fifth place with 2,277 students, or 8.7% of all students at this level.
About the data
Data on compulsory schools are collected once a year for the whole school year, while data are collected twice a year from upper secondary schools. However, the data on upper secondary students 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.