Most independent schools offer two or three of the standard western European languages (most commonly French, German and Spanish). An increasing number now teach Mandarin to all pupils for at least a year; Russian, Japanese and Arabic are sometimes available.

The language skills of non-specialists have only recently been adequately met by the school curriculum; GCSE courses now focus on communication rather than literature (though the universities feel this is at the expense of training for the specialist). The teaching of a language may be reinforced by trips or exchanges to the appropriate country (countries); at one school, all 12-year-olds spend a term in France. Almost all independent schools require pupils to take at least one modern language at GCSE. And some sixth formers are required to continue with a language (examined or non-examined) irrespective of their A-levels.