French and German have fallen most
Fewer secondary schools in England are meeting a government target on pupils taking a GCSE in a modern foreign language, a survey suggests.
Ministers want schools to have "between 50% and 90%" of pupils taking a modern foreign language at GCSE.
But a survey for The National Centre for Languages (Cilt) suggests only 40% of state schools meet this target - and that the trend is downwards.
The government says the proportion of pupils taking languages has stabilised.
Across the board, in England last summer, 44% of pupils in Key Stage 4 (15- and 16-year-olds) took a language GCSE.
That proportion had not changed since the previous year.
Before that there had been dramatic falls, stemming back to the decision in 2004 to make languages non-compulsory from the age of 14.
But according to Cilt, that statistic hides a patchy picture.
Independent schools, selective state schools and schools specialising in languages remain strong in this area, while in other state schools, fewer pupils are taking language GCSES, the organisation says.
The survey for The National Centre for Languages (Cilt) suggests the number of schools where at least half of pupils in Year 10 study a language is down to 40%.
This compares to 45% last year.
The online survey was of 2,000 schools (1,500 state and 500 independent) and was carried out in the autumn.
Cilt's report on the annual survey said: "There is little sign yet of a recovery in take up for languages in Key Stage 4 which have been in decline since 2002-3."
The organisation claims a key obstacle to increasing the take-up of languages is "league table pressures" - that schools are steering pupils towards subjects in which they are more likely to get top grades.
This pressure is not limited to schools with the lowest performances at GCSEs, it says.
Cilt's director of communications Teresa Tinsley said: "Higher-performing schools also find that to keep their places in the league tables, languages are an obstacle.
"Many schools have increased their performance by squeezing languages out."
The organisation also believes the growing number of options available to secondary pupils - including the new Diplomas - is affecting language take-up.
The government in England says it has put in place major, long-term reforms to raise take-up of languages - but that these will not have an impact "overnight".
From this year, seven to 11 year olds will be entitled to language lessons - and from next year languages will be compulsory for this age group.
GCSE LANGUAGE ENTRIES
French - down 6.8% in 2008; down 6.6% in 2009
German - down 5.4% in 2008; down 4.2% in 2009
Ministers hope that if children are introduced to modern languages at a younger age, they will find them easier to take on at secondary school.
They have also been encouraging the development and take-up of alternative, non-GCSE language qualifications.
A spokesman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families said: "This is about creating a culture change in the way we as a nation view languages - one which won't happen overnight.
"The key is getting pupils learning languages earlier when they are more open and confident to start out.
"We've put in place major, long-term reforms to raise take-up, so that we can give children the early start they need to develop a lifelong love of languages and mean more pupils will continue studying languages at GCSE and beyond in coming years.
"The fact is that the proportion of pupils studying a language at Key Stage 4 has stabilised, while the percentage achieving A*-C grades has increased from 53% in 2004 to 71% in 2009. No pupil that wants to continue studying a language at GCSE should be prevented from doing so."
DCSF research has indicated that 92% of primary schools were providing languages in class time in 2008.
The total number of students sitting a language GCSE last year was down by 4.1%, against a backdrop of a 3.6% drop in numbers taking GCSEs as a whole.
French fell most, by 6.6% and German by 4.2%. Spanish remained stable.
Linda Parker, director of the Association for Language Learning, said: "This year's survey highlights once again the enormous efforts being made by teachers of languages to encourage and support language learning in our schools, at times in the face of policies and practices in state schools which create barriers to take-up and success."