A LEADING academic has issued a warning over the Scottish Government's "muddled" strategy to increase language learning in primary schools.

Dr Dan Tierney, a reader in languages at Strathclyde University, believes the plan is currently unworkable because it lacks national continuity.

The warning comes two years after the Government announced proposals to teach all primary pupils at least two modern languages in addition to their mother tongue - known as the 1+2 model.

Since then, the Languages Working Group has recommended 35 improvements, including better training for teachers and greater support for pupils in the classroom.

Languages identified for primary schools under the plan include Arabic, Chinese, French, Gaelic, German, Italian, Portuguese, Punjabi, Russian, Spanish and Urdu.

However, Mr Tierney argues that, unless the Scottish Government prioritises some of these, pupils will arrive at secondary school with a wide variety of different experiences.

He said: "We need a national policy to provide some clarity over what is expected from the languages policy otherwise it will end up in a muddle.

"We don't currently know whether French or Spanish or German is to be prioritised or whether schools should be providing a mix of several languages. This will become a significant issue for secondary schools when pupils move up from primary."

Mr Tierney also said the issue was of concern to university teacher training departments because it was unclear where future demand would lie.

"We cannot predict the languages that teachers will need to be trained in because councils can go their own way," he added.

The Scottish Government announced its ambitious plans to teach all primary pupils at least two modern languages after a decline in the number of pupils taking modern language Higher exams.

Figures for 2011 showed a 4% drop in those sitting French, German and Italian, with only Spanish showing an increase.

The demise has been blamed on the fact many schools no longer see languages as compulsory, despite school inspectors calling for them to be a "core element" in the first three years of secondary. In addition, as part of cuts to education budgets, two-thirds of local authorities have scrapped foreign language assistants.

There have also been problems in primary, with The Herald revealing three-quarters of schools were missing recommended targets for the delivery of modern languages.

It has been estimated the decline in language learning at Scottish schools and universities is costing the economy at least half a billion pounds every year because companies miss out on overseas contracts or inward investment.

The Scottish Government's languages working group recommended children should begin learning a second language as soon as they start primary school, rather than primary six, as is now the case. The group also says children should learn a third language no later than P5 and calls for a compulsory language qualification for primary teachers.

The Scottish Government has already announced £120,000 to fund pilot projects to demonstrate ways in which Scottish schools can begin to move towards the 1+2 model.

The Government has also announced an additional £4m to support the development of local authority language plans.

However, in recent evidence to the Scottish Parliament the Scottish Parent Teacher Council said it was concerned there was insufficient resources available and said teachers did not currently have sufficient skills to make it work.

Cosla, which represents councils, said it was aware there was a need for "at least double or triple the previous language funding to assist local authorities" in taking forward the project.