Sunday 31 October, 9.45am until 10.30am, Café Breakfast Banter
Is foreign language learning in the UK in terminal decline? The previous government made foreign languages an optional subject, and less than 30% of schools in the state sector now have languages as a compulsory subject to the age of 16. Many schools struggle to get even a dozen pupils through to GCSE, German has been phased out in many schools, and it is not unusual for schools to offer only one foreign language, usually French. The one set of qualifications on the rise are those in ‘heritage’ languages – whether Welsh or Bengali - in tune with multicultural Britain, and in many cases replacing an initiation into a new language. First in the queue to drop languages were a large number of schools in socially deprived areas. After all, so the argument goes, why do you need to know German if you’re likely to be living on benefits on an inner-city estate? There are much more relevant and practical things you could be learning that will help you get a job. But even some Language Specialist Schools are having difficulty in holding the line and have gone for optionality.
So why are languages so unpopular? Are we all too ‘thick’, too lazy, too provincial to learn them? Is the teaching that bad? Does it even matter, if, after all, English is the ‘global’ language? Many among policy makers and captains of industry believe it does matter, but nobody really seems to know how to make a convincing case for this beleaguered area of the school curriculum. Attempts at linking languages to the prospects for pupil employability and the competiveness of UK plc may explain why paradoxically, at a time when so few secondary school pupils are learning a traditional European language for more than two or three years, Mandarin Chinese is being promoted as the foreign language to learn. In general, even today’s enthusiasts of learning foreign languages justify them more in terms of competing in the ‘global market’, becoming ‘global citizens’ or affirming minority cultures, rather than offering access to the cultural achievements of other countries, and giving young people a unique ‘window on the world’. Is it no longer possible to argue that knowledge of other languages will always be of importance as a cultural achievement, whether or not it is economically important with English as the global language of business?
Listen to session audio:
language teaching advisor, CILT, the National Centre for Languages
|Dr Lynn Erler|
research fellow in second-language acquisition, department of education, University of Oxford
translator, Textbüro Reul GmbH
Dr Shirley Lawes
researcher; consultant and university teacher, specialising in teacher education and modern foreign languages; Chevalier dans l’ordre des Palmes Académiques
The free schools say they are all-inclusive. But by making Latin compulsory or stressing church attendance, will they be operating selection systems by stealth?Alice Miles, New Statesman, 14 September 2010
In the week beginning 20 September 2010 the Association carried out a wide-ranging consultation exercise with its members, inviting their thoughts on the current state of language teaching in the UK, on government policy for languages and its implementation in schools and other educational institutions, and on the public perception of language learning.Association for Language Learning, September 2010
When it comes to learning languages in the UK, we are notoriously apathetic – but it is never too late to start. As Jeremy Hazlehurst says, it could be a great way to boost your careerJeremy Hazlehurst, Guardian, 29 August 2010
It's great the internet has engaged us in Australian elections and Alaska, but language has cut Europe from our mental mapsMartin Kettle, Guardian Comment is free, 19 August 2010
A former Foreign Office minister described the French language asMatthew Moore, Daily Telegraph, 15 June 2010
Robert McCrum traces the way that the English language as twisted and turned in response to the way the world has changed, and how, even as the British Empire is long dead, the language extends its influence further and further in a globalised world.
Robert McCrum, Viking, 27 May 2010
A generation of children is being left behind as foreign languages become “elitist” subjects dominated by private school pupils, according to research.Graeme Paton, Daily Telegraph, 21 January 2010
Annual survey to track developments in language provision and take-up in secondary schoolsThe National Centre for Languages, 2009
The language landscape in 2007John Canning, University of Southampton, April 2008