A senior European diplomat has urged the First Minister to help reverse the trend in the falling number of pupils in Scotland studying German and other languages.

The German Ambassador to the UK Miguel Berger raised his concerns with Humza Yousaf about the matter when he met him at Bute House in Edinburgh.

Mr Berger said it was noted in their meeting that the Republic of Ireland was a "good example" in terms of a high uptake in the subject among school children there.

READ MORE: Scotland way behind Ireland in pupils learning languages

He said the fall in pupils taking German at school is not unique to Scotland and is part of a wider UK trend. Work is underway between the German Government and the Department of Education in London to help increase pupil uptake of the language south of the Border. He hoped the Scottish Government would examine the work and apply similar initiatives in Scottish schools.

Mr Berger pointed out that in this year in the UK 2,358 pupils sat German A level and  34,707 GCSE. In Scotland 505 pupils sat German Higher in 2022 and in 2023 the number rose to 520 - down from 1051 in 2013.

A total of 4,239 pupils sat French Higher in 2013 with the number falling to 2280 this year, according to the Scottish Qualifications Authority's statistics.

READ MORE: EU experts in warning over language skills shortage among Scots

"So the numbers are dramatically low. The only European language that is stable or even increasing is Spanish," said Mr Berger.

"We would like to engage with the Scottish Government and see if there are any positive lessons that we can apply to the work we are doing with the Department of Education in England.

"Obviously we understand that funds are limited, but we are willing to engage on this and to work jointly with the governments in order to reverse the trend.

"Ireland has put language skills at the centre of growing the economy and expanding international trade and relations.”

READ MORE: SNP grassroots demand more language teaching provision in schools

He said his government was now seeking to make the case to Scotland that there were economic benefits from having workers who could speak German. His Embassy in London held a round table discussion on the issue last Tuesday.

"Some polling has found that German is the first foreign language many companies are looking for if they need speakers of foreign languages," he said.

"There are around 2,500 German companies in the UK and they need employees who can speak German.

"At our round table discussion on Tuesday we also heard from the German-British Chamber of Commerce that they get requests from small British companies who want to export to the European Union and need people who can speak German.

The Herald: The German Ambassador to the UK Miguel Berger pictured with First Minister Humza Yousaf and external affairs secretary Angus Robertson.  

"In order to really understand a country to get access to the culture, the literature, you need to learn the language.

"For people who are interested not just in business, but culture, diplomacy, journalism I think languages should be a requirement.

"Given the importance of the closeness of Scotland to Europe, for export, for trade, for energy, it makes sense for more people to be learning German."

He added: "I understand the UK and Scottish governments have been focusing a lot on STEM so far and there has not been enough focus on languages."

READ MORE: Scotland's £25bn green hydrogen strategy to power German industry

"We want to explore ways to co-operate with the Scottish Government to encourage more pupils to study German and we are coming with an offer that we are willing, through the Goethe-Institute and the German Government, to see what we can do to support efforts in language learning."

Mr Berger pointed to two schools in Scotland - Bishopbriggs Academy and Paisley Grammar - both of which are part of the German government's global network of so-called PASCH schools with "a whole-school approach" for German.

"We are providing training courses for teachers, we bring teachers to Germany to improve their own knowledge and understanding. We give them material for their classes.

READ MORE: SNP boast over 'shared values' amid process for Scotland joining EU

"It's a broad range of support that is offered to teachers. We would be interested in helping more schools in this way and keen to see how we can expand the support we are giving."

Former diplomat Chris Murray, who is a fluent French and German speaker and is standing as the Labour general election candidate for Edinburgh East and Musselburgh, said: "Scotland can’t be a country open to the world if we don’t empower our children with the languages to speak to the world. 

"It is a tragedy that German learning has fallen so much in Scotland. Schools need the resources and the support to offer German qualifications. If we want to engage with the biggest economy in Europe, we need a workforce that can speak its language. But more importantly, it can transform the perspectives and the aspirations of our young people - encouraging them to look outwards and see a place for themselves in the world. 

The Herald: Former diplomat and now MP hopeful Chris Murray said the opportunity to study languages at schools "transformed" his life.   

"I was lucky to study German at a state school in Scotland under the last Labour government. That opportunity transformed my life. I worry that opportunity isn’t available to too many kids in today’s school system."

A Renfrewshire Council spokesperson said: “Paisley Grammar School has an excellent record in delivering modern languages education and encouraging pupils to foster an interest in other languages and cultures.

“Earlier this year the school was awarded Partners for the Future (PASCH) status, a partnership initiative between the German Consulate and the Goethe Institute, which aims to promote language learning in the UK and abroad.

“Paisley Grammar School is proud to be one of only two schools in Scotland to be awarded this status and is now part of a global network of schools committed to opening up opportunities for young people through language learning.”

Depute Chief Executive of East Dunbartonshire Council Ann Davie said: “Bishopbriggs Academy has been a Goethe Partner school since 2008 and through this relationship with the Goethe Institute pupils have received resources and funding for courses in Germany.

“The school has also received funding from UK- German Connection to facilitate an S3 German Exchange programme which has been running since 2011.

“The support the school receives from external partners, including the German government, enables pupils studying German at Bishopbriggs Academy to access opportunities that greatly enhance their learning.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “It is important for young people to learn European and global languages, in addition to gaining an understanding of worldwide issues and cultures.

“This is why we have invested over £50 million since 2013 in the 1+2 languages learning policy, which sees every child learn additional languages starting in the first year of primary school. This cultural shift in our approach has supported young people’s awareness of foreign languages, culture and global issues and has now been embedded across Scottish schools.

“German is one of the eight languages students can take at National level and entries to National 5 and Highers have stabilised in 2023.”