BUSINESS leaders have called for greater efforts to be made to ensure the survival of modern language learning in Scottish schools.

CBI Scotland, the Institute of Directors in Scotland and the Scottish Chambers of Commerce said it was essential to the future competitiveness of the Scottish economy that pupils were able to learn a range of languages.

The call comes after the Scottish Government came under fire from some of the most powerful countries in Europe over its languages policy.

Representatives from Germany, Switzerland and Austria have written to Dr Alastair Allan, the minister for learning, warning that current policies to expand language learning may lead to the "ultimate demise" of German in Scottish schools.

In January, Dr Alexander Yakovenko, the Russian Ambassador to Great Britain and Northern Ireland, urged Scottish ministers to protect the Russian Higher qualification, which is to be axed this year despite a sharp increase in numbers sitting it.

Liz Cameron, chief executive of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, said: "If Scotland is to achieve a step change in the number and types of businesses that operate on the international stage, then we need to look seriously at the cultural and educational differences that foreign language teaching can make to our aspiring business leaders of the future.

"Knowledge of foreign languages is important both from the perspective of being able to communicate with businesses elsewhere in the world and also from the standpoint of cultural awareness of how other nations and people operate.

"If we are to make a real difference though, we should go further and ensure that, for example, a foreign study is an essential component of all higher education coursework."

David Watt, executive director of the Institute of Directors in Scotland, said the predominance of English as an international language of computers and commerce had made people "even more lazy" about learning a foreign language.

"It is ironic that that is happening when one of Scotland's main priorities is growing exports," he said.

"Business is about personal relationships because people do business with other people and it is important that pupils have access to languages from an early age because it can be much harder to pick up later in life."

A CBI spokesman added: "With the EU still our largest export market, it's no surprise that German, French and Spanish language skills remain highly prized by companies.

"It has been a worry to see foreign language study in our schools under pressure with one in five schools having a persistently low-take up of languages. The jury remains out as to whether recent Government initiatives can help spur a resurgence in language learning.

"Young people considering their future subject choices should be made more aware of the benefits to their careers that can come from studying a foreign language."

Earlier this week The Herald revealed that representatives from Germany, Switzerland and Austria had written to Dr Alastair Allan, the minister for learning, warning that current policies to expand language learning may lead to the "ultimate demise" of German in Scottish schools.

A joint paper from the three consulates highlights the SNP's aspiration to adopt the European Union's 1+2 policy which would see all Scottish pupils learning two languages in addition to their native tongue by the end of primary school.

But it adds: "A review of the situation in 2014 leaves no doubt that Scottish Government's ambitious targets for increasing language provision have not been met as far as German is concerned. The uptake of German in Scottish schools has not increased."

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said German learning has an important place in education.

She said: "We are investing £9 million over two years in our ambitious 1+2 policy., Overall the number of pupils learning languages at higher level in Scotland is up eight per cent since 2010.

"We fully expect the range of languages to increase as 1+2 is implemented across the country, and this will provide opportunities for German to become more widely available as capacity is built within the system."