Primary schools in Wales 'should teach foreign languages'
Primary school children in Wales should be taught foreign languages to boost the number studying them later, the National Centre for Languages has said.
Welsh government figures show a drop in pupils choosing a language at GCSE and A-level.
In 2005, 12,826 children studied a language at GCSE, but by 2014 the number had fallen by a third to 8,601.
A government spokesperson said primary schools are encouraged to teach languages.
The number of teenagers studying a language at A-level has more than halved to 668 from 1,467.
A government spokesperson said they were looking at ways to improve secondary school take up.
The Welsh Conservatives said the figures were disappointing because the economy is so dependent on international links.
The National Centre for Languages (CILT Cymru) said primary school children in England and Scotland do learn a language.
"There are lots of benefits for early language learning, not just the learning of words and the culture and understanding, empathy and communication with other cultures and other peoples," said Carolyn Goodwin, a language advisor at CILT Cymru.
"We know, and we have research to show, that learning any language, and learning as many languages as you can early, can reinforce the skills and the cognitive activity that's going on.
"And we have definitive evidence that this raises standards of literacy."
Angela Burns AM, the Conservatives' shadow minister for education, said: "These are deeply depressing figures, especially at a time when our economy is more dependent than ever on international links.
"Young people in Wales risk being isolated on the fringes of the global jobs market if they are lacking in the communication skills most highly valued by employers."
Ms Burns called the decline in language take-up was "rapid" and "disturbing".
"At a time when many of the world's fastest growing and influential economies are in Asia, I am very concerned that Chinese, Japanese and Arabic are not taught in any Welsh schools or colleges," she said.
"In other parts of the UK the uptake of foreign languages is rising because the UK government has recognised the importance of equipping young people with highly valued skills including languages, maths, science and ICT."
The Welsh government said it recognised the importance of studying languages.
A spokesperson said: "Learning a modern foreign language is not compulsory in primary schools in Wales but it should be noted that all children in primary schools in Wales are taught Welsh.
"We have put in place guidance to support those schools who teach key stage 2 learners (age 7-11) MFL and we encourage other schools, if able, to incorporate a modern foreign language into the curriculum."