A long term decline in the study of modern languages at school has sparked fears Scotland is becoming increasingly isolated in the world.

But a new report argues our population now speaks more languages than ever before thanks to the establishment of communities from across the globe.

There are now 158 languages spoken by Scottish pupils at home with the most common after English including Polish, Urdu, Punjabi, Arabic and Chinese.

The report by the Reform Scotland has called on schools to harness the language expertise in such communities to lead a revolution in language learning.

The findings come as figures from the Scottish Qualification Authority (SQA) show entries in traditional languages have decreased over the last 20 years.

Entries for Higher French are down by more than 18 per cent while entries for Higher German dropped by nearly 60 per cent.

Reform Scotland called for an end to distinctions between so-called “community” languages and other modern languages.

Chris Deerin, director of Reform Scotland, said: “If we want to see genuine growth in language skills rather than just paying lip service to the idea we need to rethink our approach.

“There is a danger the languages currently on offer within the education system are not keeping up with Scottish or global society.

“We need to think much more freely - as many other countries do - about how best to equip ourselves to thrive in the modern global economy.”

Dr Thomas Bak, from Edinburgh University’s School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences, who contributed to the report, said the decline in French and German was part of a natural process.

“A century ago the main discussion was between the modern and the classical languages of Latin and Ancient Greek and we need to adjust the offer of languages in schools to the times we live in.

“Giving community languages recognition could lead to a virtuous circle where children from immigrant are families more likely to learn them, they will become better in languages in general and native English-speakers might also get interested in learning them.”

However, the report sparked concerns that the introduction of more languages would over-crowd an already cramped curriculum.

Dr Dan Tierney, an independent languages expert, said the Scottish Government’s strategy was already confusing.

Under its 1+2 policy pupils are expected to learn two additional languages as well as their mother tongue.

Critics argue a failure to focus resources on languages such as French, Spanish, German and Italian in primary schools will lead to further decline.

Mr Tierney said: “The government suggests pupils are learning two languages when the reality is they are not learning in depth in a crowded curriculum and there is lack of continuity into secondary.

“The focus should be on developing language learning skills through key languages which will be an easier start than Chinese, which belongs at a later stage.

“The introduction of Polish, Urdu and Arabic will only help to muddle the existing situation even more.”

Helen Chambers, Emeritus Professor of German at St Andrews University, backed the report’s call for an end to the distinction between modern and community languages.

However, she warned against “playing down” the drop in uptake of French and German.

She said: “As we prepare for Brexit, there is a stronger argument than before for political, economic and cultural ties to the major member states, Germany and France, to be strengthened not weakened by language policy.

“The experience of Germany with its strong economy and uniquely humane stance on migration is one that Scottish language-learners would do well to draw on.”

And Gillian Campbell-Thow, chairwoman of the Scottish Association for Language Teaching, warned of the need for qualified teachers in secondary schools.

She said: “The will is there, but we cannot expand a teaching portfolio without recognised progression routes for teachers and pupils.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said pupils were speaking more languages than they had ever done.

He added: “Language learning builds the skills which young people need for an increasingly globalised world and we welcome all input into ongoing discussion about how to further encourage language learning.”

Since 2013, the Scottish Government has made an additional £27 million available to councils to help implement the 1+2 language policy.