You can forget la plume de ma tante, chalk dust, and ancient grammar books. The way modern languages are taught in the UK now is more about websites, international communication and current events.
It's true that applications to study a single language are falling. But as Professor Brian Hill, Head of the School of Languages at Brighton University says, this isn't the whole picture. "There is a corresponding increase in people wanting to do languages with other subjects. We're 30 per cent up on the `language plus' applications."
Dr Monica Nurnberg, a Lecturer in French at Liverpool University says, "Employers really welcome people with one or more languages, and I think it does teach the students to be articulate and literate. A lot go on to work abroad as translators, or they work in international banking, teaching, GCHQ, the Diplomatic Service, the Civil Service. We even had one student who has become a priest in Santiago De Compostela."
Gillian Wintle has just graduated from Brighton University with a first in French and business studies. A mature student, she worked in the Loire Valley looking after horses before she had her children. "I am a fluent in French, and I've always worked, so I decided to build on the skills I already had. I knew I wanted to work in a business situation so I didn't want anything that was not applicable to that. I am now looking to work for a French sportswear company which is setting up branches over here."
Genevieve Metters has just finished her second year on the same course. "After I finish I'd like to work as a bilingual secretary, and we've just looked at French business language which is very useful." This summer, she is on her way to Belgium, researching the language of chocolate manufacturers. "It's looking at how different people speak differently."
Many modern languages students combine two or more languages. Professor David Head, head of the school of modern languages at the University of Northumbria says that able students can finish their course with a triple qualification. "They come to us in year one, then go to the University of Aix-en-Provence for a year, and then for a following year to institutions either in Germany or Spain. It is a very demanding course, and quite uncommon. It is a way of moving towards a single European qualification."
Heather Coe, who has just graduated from Northumbria with a first class degree in French and Spanish. says "I did French at A-level and I fancied a challenge, so I took up Spanish from the beginning. I wanted to specialise in languages, and I thought having just one was quite limited." After her holiday, she is off to Peru for a year to teach English, but becoming an interpreter is her main aim. "I might do an MA in a couple of years, with the aim of working in the EU."
Even grammar is getting more exciting. Dr Sharon Handley, Section Leader for Spanish in the languages department of Manchester Metropolitan University says, "We've devised quite an innovative programme of grammar exercises which we've put on the internet so it's self-correcting. …