You probably have or will have to study a language at some point within your secondary school education. From French to Mandarin the options are endless. You may love the chance to get to study a new language and maybe you will want to continue studying it (possibly even as a GCSE). You may feel that studying a language is just not for you. But regardless of how you feel about studying a language it is important that you understand the options you have in this subject. So, the question really is do you have to do a language at GCSE?
In short, no. According to government guidelines, it is not compulsory for you to study a foreign language at GCSE (or in Scotland, National 5). However, in Wales, while you do not have to study a foreign language it is compulsory for you to study both English and Welsh as a part of your GCSEs.
Some schools (especially private schools) may choose to make studying a language at GCSE compulsory for their students. Doing a language at GCSE can be great for your personal and professional growth as it can teach you a number of skills that you can use later on in life.
Continue reading this article for more information about doing a language at GCSE. This can be particularly useful to you if you are nearing the age of choosing options and would like to be better informed.
Table of Contents
Is a Language at GCSE Compulsory?
Despite what you may think, each region of the UK (in terms of each UK country) has a slightly different education system. Due to this, compulsory subjects in each region can also differ slightly. Due to these differences, it is important to check the information for the country that applies to you.
Is studying a Language at GCSE Compulsory in England?
According to government guidelines there are three compulsory subjects at GCSE, click here to view these guidelines. These subjects are English (both English Language and English Literature), Maths and Science (typically Combined Science). For more information about these compulsory subjects click here and for more about GCSE options in general click here. So technically no it is not compulsory for you to do a language at GCSE.
However, as these are only the bare minimum of what schools have to teach at GCSE, different schools may set their own compulsory subjects on top of these in some schools a language will be among them. In preparation for studying your GCSEs, you may find it useful to check whether or not your school makes it compulsory or not and what languages they offer.
Is studying a Language at GCSE Compulsory in Wales?
In Wales, it is slightly different as Welsh is one of the official languages alongside English. So technically, it is compulsory to take another language, as both Welsh and English Language are compulsory. Whether you must take Welsh First Language or Welsh Second Language depends on what kind of school you go to.
If you go to a Welsh medium school, where the teaching is primarily in Welsh then you will take Welsh First Language and then Welsh Second Language if you go to an English medium school. For more on this, check out this article.
As for foreign languages, they are not typically compulsory to do as a GCSE, but it is still worth double checking with your school to be sure. For more about GCSE options in Wales click here.
Is studying a Language at GCSE Compulsory in Northern Ireland?
In Northern Ireland the government guidelines are very similar to England. Once again, there are three compulsory subjects which are English, Maths and Science. Science can either be Triple Science (where students study Biology, Chemistry and Physics separately) or as a Double Award (or Combined Science) for more on the differences between these two check out this article.
Religious Education is also compulsory to be studied up to the end of KS4, but it will depend on the school if it is to be taken as a GCSE or not. Therefore, you typically do not have to do a language at GCSE in Northern Ireland.
Although, just like in any other regions of the UK, it is worth checking with your teachers (especially if you go to a private school) to see if your school has made studying a language compulsory. This is especially important in Northern Ireland due to the regional language of Irish that is offered as an option in many schools but is not compulsory. For more information about GCSE options in Northern Ireland check out this article.
Is studying a Language at GCSE Compulsory in Scotland?
In Scotland, the qualifications are quite different to the rest of the UK and GCSEs aren’t generally taken at all (although private schools may choose to offer them). In the Scottish education system, the nearest equivalent to GCSEs are the National 5 (or N5) exams. For more information about the N5 exams and more comparison between them and GCSEs, you can check out this article or look here.
Quite similarly to GCSE guidelines, for N5s the only compulsory subjects are English and Maths (or Application of Mathematics). So once again no, it would not typically be compulsory for you to study a language. Although it is still worth checking with your school (if you haven’t already been informed) about the compulsory subjects that they set. For more information about choosing your N5 options look here.
What are the Benefits of Doing a Language at GCSE?
With any subject, gaining qualifications can be really beneficial for your development. This development may be in your personal life, or it could be in your career prospects. This is particularly true for studying languages as it can show you and other exactly what level you are at. This is one reason why having a GCSE in a language can be good. Below I will discuss more reasons why having a GCSE in a language is beneficial.
1. Languages Look Great on Applications
In today’s globalised world, having language skills can make your application vastly attractive to employers, universities, or other places you’ve applied to. This is partially due to the “soft” skills that you can gain from it but also because it makes your application stand out. Look here to find out about more job-related benefits.
2. Languages Promote Intercultural Understanding
Recently our society has come to understand how important it is to embrace the cultural diversity within. Studying a language (especially at GCSE within a formal school setting) can help you to become more aware of the different cultures within our society (as well as other societies).
3. Languages Help You Gain Transferable “Soft” Skills
Soft skills are interpersonal attributes that will enable you to adapt to a workplace environment. They can also be useful in any other setting, such as school or within your personal life. Learning a language can help to improve you communication skill in particular. You can look at this article to find out more.
4. Languages Can Help if You Want to Travel
While the current GCSE model for languages is admittedly rather flawed when it comes to natural conversation, picking up the basics with the GCSE can give you the stepping stool you need to put the skills you have learnt into practice when travelling to a country that speaks it. If you enjoy travelling, this could be a useful way to avoid getting lost. This article can give you more detail.