A top-ranking student who began his studies at a state school has spoken of how vital it is to learn languages.

It came as expert raised concerns over a drop in students studying languages at state schools and as figures revealed the number of applications for foreign language degrees has plummeted in the last decade.

George Cook, who plays for the under-18 England rugby counties squad, transferred from Hazelwick School in Crawley, West Sussex, to join Brighton College’s sixth form and is a head boy.

The 18-year-old got A*s in French, German, Latin and maths.

He will now go on to study French and German at Cambridge and hopes languages will help his career prospects, whatever he chooses to do.

He said: “I’m very happy – there is a big build-up to it so there is a lot of relief.

“I just picked languages up and enjoyed them. I always wanted to study them.

“I found German the hardest, because of the order of the words, and enjoyed French the most.

“It’s really important to study languages so you can understand other cultures.

“When you go abroad there is a widespread belief you everyone should speak English but we should try and understand what we can.”

All five students who studied Mandarin at Brighton College gained the highest possible mark when they received their results on Thursday – a D1 which is the equivalent of an A** under an A-level alternative test called the Cambridge Pre-U.

Four of them will study Mandarin at university, including two at Oxbridge.

A-level resultsMoyle Oloko said she was ‘overwhelmed’ at her results (Flora Thompson/PA)

Moyo Oloko, 18, who lives in Sussex, also gained As in French and maths.

In September she starts a degree in French and Chinese at Edinburgh University and is eager to travel as part of any future career plans.

She said: “I’m really overwhelmed. I didn’t expect to do so well.

“It was compulsory in Year 7 and once I got into it I was intrigued.

“Then I visited China on an exchange and loved being there.

“I think learning a language is really important because you don’t just learn to speak the language, you learn a new skill set, you learn about linguistics, you learn about a different culture.

“I did find it quite difficult but it was fun.”

A-level results(L-R) Will Oliviero, Tom Burke, Maddie Gibson, James Dart and Moyo Oloko celebrate their Mandarin A-level results at Brighton College (Gareth Fuller/PA)

Her fellow Mandarin students who also achieved the top grade were Will Oliviero, who also gained As in chemistry and maths; Tom Burke, who also got A*s in economics, maths and further maths; Madeleine Gibson, who also gained an A in history and Spanish; and James Dart, who also achieved A*s in economics and maths.

Brighton College headmaster Richard Cairns said: “Contrary to what seems to be happening nationally with pupils choosing not to study languages any more, we have seen a real interest in pursuing languages.

“Pupils can study French, German, Italian, Spanish, Greek, Russian and Mandarin here. Back in 2006, we introduced Mandarin for our pupils from the age of four and the culture of language learning and its benefits are instilled early.”

There were 17,505 applications to study European languages, literature and related courses last year, down 30% from 24,895 in 2007, according to analysis of Ucas data carried out by the Press Association and published on Wednesday.

Mark Herbert, director of schools and skills at the British Council, said the decreases were concerning and the UK needs to “nurture a new generation of fluent speakers”.