Education Minister says 'disregarding' foreign languages is a common weakness of English-speaking countries
All pupils will study a foreign language for their Junior Cert by 2021 under ambitious new plans being announced by the Education Minister.
The strategy also aims to increase the number of Leaving Cert students studying a foreign language by 10%.
Chinese will be introduced as a Leaving Cert subject for the first time, while so-called 'heritage languages' such as Polish, Lithuanian and Portuguese will get a proper curriculum.
Speaking to Pat Kenny, Minister Richard Bruton explained: "We are going to have to, post-Brexit, realise that one of the common weaknesses of English speaking countries - that we disregard foreign languages - has to be addressed in Ireland.
"We need now to trade in the growth areas - and many of those speak Spanish, Portuguese and Mandarin. Those are the languages that we need to learn to continue to trade successfully."
On the subject of Eastern European languages, he observed: "We now have many Lithuanians and Polish here, and we can develop those languages.
"We also need to use programmes like Erasmus - we want to increase our participation there by 50%. Clearly it has to become more immersed in the language.
"At the moment if you look at Leaving Cert and Junior Cert, French dominates. French is a lovely language, but we need to recognise that we need to diversify into other languages."
Concerns have been raised, however, about the feasibility of such an ambitious language programme, especially amid concerns over the teaching of Irish.
Fianna Fail’s education spokesperson Thomas Byrne says the shortage of teachers remains a major concern.
He suggested: "The Minister should be looking at that issue first before he develops a strategy.
"Any modern language strategy must be across all Government departments as well. It can't just be about the education system - it has to be how we live our lives, how we interact with the wider world.
He added: "In the context of Brexit, it's going to become much more important."