Word of the Day

modern languages

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Liz Potter
Written by Liz Potter


languages that are still spoken today, especially considered as a subject of study at school or university

View the full definition in the Macmillan Dictionary

Origin and usage

The plural noun modern languages is formed from the adjective ‘modern’ and the noun ‘language’. It was first used at the beginning of the 17th century.


The first recorded use of the term modern languages is attributed to the philosopher Francis Bacon, who included them in the subjects that might be studied as part of a free college education. Saturday was the annual European Day of Languages, whose purpose is to encourage language learning across Europe and to celebrate the rich diversity of languages spoken on the continent. Modern language learning has been in decline in the UK, and in England especially, for many years. A recent report showed that fewer than a third of young people in the UK say they are able to speak or write in more than one language, compared with 79% in France and over 90% in Germany. Study of a modern foreign language up to the age of 16 has not been compulsory since 2004, leading to a precipitous decline in the numbers doing so. Despite warm words about the need for competence in languages other than English in the workplace and more generally, there is little sign that the situation is going to improve any time soon.


Whoever is not acquainted with foreign languages knows nothing of his own.

Our Modern Languages BA lets you choose one or two from French, German, Russian, Spanish and Portuguese, with the option of taking a further language as a minor subject.

Related words

fluency, fluent, non-native speaker, second-language acquisition, SLA

Browse related words in the Macmillan Thesaurus.

About the author

Liz Potter

Liz Potter

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