In an increasingly global economy, there has never been a better time to learn a second language, writes Pat Howarth, principal of Hummersknott Academy in Darlington.

The more ‘unusual’ languages like Mandarin and Russian are experiencing something of a surge in popularity as the internationalisation of business continues apace.

Languages, including Mandarin and Cantonese, will from September become compulsory in the Key Stage 2 Curriculum, so the resurgence in learning a foreign language looks set to gain further momentum. According to the Department for Education, the number of students sitting a language GCSE is now at a five-year high.

Examination entries for Chinese have risen by 20 per cent. One in four secondary schools had at least 11 pupils studying for a GCSE in Chinese. It may be more difficult to access Russian in secondary schools as a GCSE subject compared to Mandarin, but the country holds consolidated political, economic, and cultural ties with other countries in Europe, Asia, and the Americas.

This is quickly extending to the global economy, which is why it is advantageous to learn any language, or an unusual one, if the opportunity is available.

Mastering a second, or even a third or fourth, language can lead to exciting career opportunities and make school leavers and graduates stand out to prospective employers, particularly those with an eye on global markets.

At Hummersknott Academy, we have a strong heritage in languages, as a former specialist language college. In 2013, we again reported excellent results in the broadest range of languages we have ever offered. Despite the national fall in core subject grades, the proportion of students achieving A* to C in subjects - including languages - was the highest ever last year.

Countries now visited by Hummersknott Academy students range from Germany and France to China and Russia, and we are also in the process of

developing link schools in Spain and Italy.

As well as exchange trips, Hummersknott encourages cultural experiences focusing on key dates such as Chinese New Year. Exchange trips to Russia and China are particularly popular, as students also take part in international conferences with other students from across Europe.

At Hummersknott, we are fortunate to have our own Confucius Classroom, which is a recognised centre for promoting Mandarin Language and Chinese culture, as well as having a partner school in Guangdong, China. This is funded by the Confucius Institute - a non-profit organisation devoted to promoting the understanding of Chinese language and culture.

All students have the opportunity to go on at least one visit abroad, and they have benefited from exchange trips to China and Russia. These educational trips have given significant cultural and linguistic benefits to those who have taken part in them. In addition, our students have the opportunity to independently learn 25 languages following the Academy’s investment in Rosetta Stone language software.

It is these more unusual languages that, in many cases, are more attractive to potential employers.. Despite the fragile Russian economy, Russian is one of the six official languages of the United Nations and is the most widely spoken Slavic language.

China’s economy currently stands as the second largest in the world and is growing at a fast pace.

Languages such as Mandarin and Russian are therefore increasingly carrying more business clout, largely due to their strong economies. As businesses go multi-national, there is an increasing need for bi-lingual employees to communicate effectively with overseas clients - and prospective clients. Learning a second language can also benefit youngsters financially, as they can expect an additional 10 to 15 per cent pay increase, according to Ryan McMunn, CEO of BRIC Language Systems, an online language learning system.

In today’s global economy, one thing that is certain is that it is becoming increasingly vital that our young people are more adequately ‘linguistically’ equipped for the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.