Teachers striving to help British students master a foreign language need to teach commonly used words instead of simply jumping into specialised subjects if they want their pupils to persist, a report has found.
The Teaching Schools Council, a body that works with government and other stakeholders to improve educational standards, published the Modern Foreign Languages Pedagogy Review report on Friday.
The report revealed less than half of pupils take a GCSE in a language and instead recommended the "vast majority of young people" should study a modern foreign language up to age 16 and take a GCSE in it.
Designed to provide advice for secondary school languages teachers, the review suggested some language courses taught vocabulary that was too specialised by sticking with set themes such as "free time activities" and the "environment".
It said this could lead to students feeling they cannot grasp basic conversational subject matter which, in turn, reduces their enjoyment in using the language and giving the impression they are not making progress.
The report reads: "There is some evidence that weak vocabulary teaching is a major part of the low standards achieved by many British pupils.
"A consequence of not attending to frequency of occurrence in vocabulary choice is pupils realising that they cannot say or understand basic things in the language."
Educator Ian Bauckham, who acted a chair of review, said the current statistics suggested modern languages beyond GCSE were in a state of "crisis" in British schools.
He said: "Currently fewer than half of pupils take a GCSE in a language, and only one-third of pupils achieves a good GCSE grade in a language.
"Without concerted action, languages in our schools are at risk, and may become confined to certain types of school and certain sections of the pupil population."
Mr Bauckham said the reviewers heard "many examples" of schools cutting back on their languages curriculum in recent years, namely because class numbers were dwindling.
"Modern foreign languages in our schools are in a very fragile state," he said.
To amend this, the report also recommended second schools get a greater understanding of the existing language knowledge students may have garnered in primary school so children are not subjected to starting from scratch when they move up the year levels.
It also recommended standard grammatical terminology is taught to empower students as they progress in their study of the language through a variety of contexts.