The number of pupils learning foreign languages in compulsory education increases year by year. In 2012-2013 80.2% of pupils learned a foreign language, more than ever before.
More younger pupils in compulsory schools learn English
English is the first foreign language taught in compulsory schools and also the most commonly learned language. During the school year 2012-2013, 33,858 pupils learned English in compulsory schools, 80.0%; down by 0.1% from the previous year. English lessons usually start in grade 4 but English is frequently taught in grades 1-3. Last school year 5,191 pupils in grades 1-3 studied English, or 40.2% of pupils in these grades (6-8 years old). A decade earlier, 164 pupils in these grades learned English, or 1.3%.
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. Instead the number of hours devoted to learning foreign languages is being spread over more school years. 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 32.4 in 2002-2003 to 34.9 in 2011-2012.
Fewer students in grades 1-6 learn Danish
Most pupils start learning Danish in grade 7, at the age of 12. A total of 910 pupils in grades 1-6 learned Danish in 2012-2013, a decrease from 956 in the previous year.
In many schools pupils who know Norwegian or Swedish can select those languages instead of Danish. Last school year a total of 114 pupils selected Swedish rather than Danish and 83 pupils learned Norwegian.
Fewer pupils learn Spanish while more learn French and German
The number of pupils in compulsory schools learning three foreign languages has decreased since their number was greatest during the school year 2001-2002 (1,656, 3.8% of pupils). The third foreign language is usually taught as an elective in Icelandic compulsory schools. In 2012-2013, 957 pupils learned three foreign languages or more, or 2.3% of pupils.
Last decade there have been considerable changes in the number of pupils in lower secondary education (grades 8-10) who learn three foreign languages. In 2002-2003 1,523 pupils learned three or more foreign languages but their number dropped to a low of 682 in 2010-2011. Last school year the number of students learning three or more foreign languages had increased to 917. German was the most commonly studied third foreign language at the lower secondary level until the school year 2006-2007, but since then Spanish has been the most studied language. Last school year 372 pupils in grades 8-10 learned Spanish, 315 German and 230 learned French. The number of pupils learning Spanish decreased from the previous year, while more pupils learned French and German.
Statistics Iceland has published these data on students in compulsory schools learning foreign languages in 2012-2013 for the European Day of Languages, 26 September.