Learning a modern language beyond the age of 14 is now compulsory in only a quarter of England's state secondary schools, a survey suggests.
The vocational aspects of languages need stressing, report says
In a similar survey a year ago, by the National Centre for Languages, the figure was more than a third.
But the centre said languages could attract pupils if they had support from the senior management in a school.
Some schools were successfully using strategies such as offering more diverse courses and qualifications.
The National Centre for Languages (Cilt) said there was continuing concern about the effect of the government's decision to remove languages from the core curriculum at Key Stage 4 from September 2004.
survey aimed to monitor the extent to which maintained secondary schools in England were making languages optional for students aged over 14.
It sent questionnaires to a representative random sample of 1,577 state schools and 423 independent schools.
The results were based on responses from about 57% of them.
Within the state sector there was a split between comprehensives, only 21% of which now make languages compulsory, and grammar schools (85%).
In the independent sector the figure is 75%, according to its report, Language trends 2005: Languages in Key Stage 4.
French and German hit
Schools in the lowest fifth nationally for educational achievement are least likely to have languages as a compulsory subject (7% do) while schools in the top fifth are most likely (63%).
Regionally, 40% of schools in the South East have compulsory languages, with just 18% in the North West and Yorkshire and 21% in Humberside.
Languages tend to be kept on in schools with higher than average numbers of pupils whose first language is not English.
The decline has hit French and German the hardest, but Spanish is increasing in popularity.
Among the sort of new courses and qualifications being offered to make the curriculum more interesting are Applied GCSEs, Vocational A-levels and Asset Languages.
Cilt reported that teachers said the vocational value of languages was not always self-evident and had to be made explicit.
Where this was done, there was evidence that school language departments could respond to the more competitive environment they now found themselves in.
But where there was a lack of managerial support for languages, Cilt said, "demotivation has trickled down and there is a despondency about languages throughout the school".
Its director, Isabella Moore, said: "It is vital that we redouble our efforts to convince pupils of the value and relevance of languages to their future lives.
"The advantages of learning a language have to be made explicit and there needs to be greater acknowledgement of the added value of a language qualification for all students."
The government is focusing its efforts on offering languages in primary schools.
A spokesman for the Department for Education and Skills said the report was "useful in highlighting some of the challenges ahead".
"The government is committed to improving the nation's language skills," he
"All seven to 11-year-olds will be entitled to learn at least one foreign
language by 2010."
Language trends 2005: Languages in Key Stage 4 presents the results of a survey carried out by Cilt, the Association for Language Learning and the Independent Schools Modern Languages Association.