Ministers are facing a demand from the SNP grassroots to improve language teaching provision in Scottish schools after falling Higher entries for French and German.

A motion on the draft agenda to the party's conference raises concerns over the teaching in European languages for senior pupils at secondary school.

It underlines the importance of language learning as a life skill "particularly if we are striving for membership of the EU post-independence" and calls for native speakers to be recruited as language assistants to help secondary school students gain qualifications.

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. In 2013 a total of 1051 entered German Higher compared to 520 this year.

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The figures also showed an increasing trend towards pupils taking Spanish, with 1,645 Higher entries in the subject in 2013 rising to 2605 this year (overtaking French).

However, Scotland is considerably lagging behind the Republic of Ireland which has made language teaching a central part of its successful economic strategy with GDP growing by 12% in 2022, compared to 4% for the UK's.

According to Ireland's State Examinations Commission, the number of entries this year in Leaving Certificate (the country's main pre-university school qualification) in French, German and Spanish were 19,831, 7858 and 10,094.

Students in Ireland can take subjects at Leaving Certificate at two levels, A or G.

A represents Ardleibhéal which is Irish language for advanced Level, G is for Gnáthleibhéal which is Irish language for ordinary level.

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The figures above are combined for A and G, but a breakdown shows most took the subject at the advanced level. French 14,701 (A) and 5130 (G); German 6129 (A) and 1729 (G); and Spanish 7574 (A) and 2520 (G).

With similar sized total populations, Scotland and Ireland had similar numbers of total candidates sitting Highers and Leaving Certificate exams across all curriculum subjects with 64,231 entering the former and 61,736 in the latter.

The resolution by the SNP's Paisley branch is entitled "Increase Modern Languages Provision".

It describes the Scottish Government's 1+2 languages initiative as "a terrific bedrock for multilingual education throughout the primary years and up to S3 in high school" but raises concerns about provision for those studying for National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher qualifications.

"The breadth and depth of language knowledge (as well as the capacity for studying to N5 / H/ AH levels) available to students must depend, to a large degree, on the availability of specialist language teachers, particularly in high schools," it says.

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"Languages are important life skills, particularly if we are striving for membership of the EU post-independence, and not necessarily just French, German and Spanish.

"Exposure to multiple languages from the from the earliest possible age increases neuro-plasticity in the brain, which enhances memory, attention span, multi-tasking and problem-solving.

"Teaching any language should result in young people being able to converse confidently, as well as read and write in their chosen language. Conversation sessions, particularly in primary, don’t need to be taught by qualified teachers, they can be delivered by native speakers, focusing on simple vocabulary, songs and games, for example.

"Scotland is a wonderfully welcoming country to people from across the world, many of whom settle in pockets where they may have existing connections. This proposal could provide both an opportunity for learning from New Scots in our communities and enhancing community cohesion."

The motion calls for the creation of a new role in schools of language assistants saying in primary schools the roles could be filled by speakers of the additional languages most prevalent in each local area.

It adds: "In High Schools, they would need to support the languages on the curriculum."

Anthony Salamone, an expert in EU affairs and managing director of the consultancy European Merchants, said: "It is regrettable and concerning that the overall take-up of modern languages in schools appears to be declining in Scotland.

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"The rising prevalence of English does not make greater monolingualism a recipe for success in the world. Learning other languages opens minds and opens doors.

"In government, the SNP has made a habit of relying on feel-good messages about Scotland being open, outward-looking, European and internationalist. On language learning, as in other areas, the gap between those convenient narratives and the practical reality has grown ever more substantial.

"While this trend in pupils studying fewer languages requires investigation, we can say already that more funding is surely needed for languages programmes in schools. Despite the budget pressures today, the Scottish Government should recognise that language learning is a long-term investment in Scotland’s future.

"Except for the ardent faithful, the prospects of Scottish independence and EU membership are clearly off the table for the near future. However, if an independent Scotland ever did seek to join the EU, a lack of multilingual candidates to work for the Scottish Government and the EU institutions would hobble its influence in Brussels."

The motion appears on the draft agenda for the SNP's annual conference in Aberdeen in October with the final agenda to be confirmed in the coming weeks.

Societies should question the stories that they tell themselves – and be sceptical of politicians who avoid doing so at all costs. If we truly aspire to be internationalist, we collectively must reinvigorate language learning in Scotland.

The Scottish Government was approached for comment.