THE current fashion for learning Chinese languages in Scottish schools is misplaced, an academic has warned.

Dr Dan Tierney, a reader in languages at Strathclyde University, said Mandarin was hard to learn at first and had less relevance to pupils than European languages.

Instead, Mr Tierney believes the Scottish Government should focus resources on languages such as French, Spanish, German and Italian in primary schools to ensure more pupils take up the subjects.

His comments come on the eve of a major conference in ­Glasgow on the future of language learning, hosted by the Scottish Association for Language Teaching, where he is delivering the keynote address. The past few years have seen a network of "Confucius classrooms" set up at schools across Scotland under an initiative funded by the Chinese Government to generate interest in the country's language and culture.

The classrooms teach not only Mandarin, but also calligraphy, dance, music and traditions such as the tea ceremony.

Mr Tierney said: "I question the current focus on Mandarin because, although there are a lot of Chinese speakers in the world, it is a difficult language to learn to begin with and there is less chance of Scottish pupils travelling to China or needing it in the future.

"Learning a bit of Mandarin might be fun, but we should be identifying a few languages that are the most important to us and getting behind those. In terms of export markets, the languages needed for employment and the countries pupils are most likely to visit, then France, Spain, Germany and Italy are the ones we should be focusing on."

Mr Tierney will use his speech today to criticise the Scottish Government's current strategy to increase language learning - known as 1+2.

Under the 1+2 policy, primary pupils are to be taught at least two modern languages in addition to their mother tongue, starting in the first year of schooling and adding a second foreign language no later than P5.

Michael Russell, the Education Secretary, has backed plans for primary schools to incorporate as large a pool of languages as possible, including Portuguese, Punjabi, Urdu and Polish. Mr Tierney said schools and teacher training universities needed a much smaller group of languages to focus on to ensure continuity of study and expertise among staff.

He added: "We should also be looking at finishing the work already done to improve language learning in the upper years of primary school to make sure that works before embarking on this highly ambitious approach further down the school."

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government said: "Our ambitious languages policy will enable every child in Scotland to learn two languages in addition to their mother tongue by 2020 and underlines our commitment to supporting a future workforce in a global, multi-cultural world.

"It is a long-term policy and is one which we are committed to delivering, which is why we have invested an additional £5 million in 2014/15, on top of last year's £4m, to enable local authorities to begin to implement the work."

The latest concern follows a historic decline in the number of pupils taking modern language Higher exams.