UK foreign language teaching hits all-time low
Report laments 'phrase book' standards
Foreign language teaching in the UK's state schools has been reduced to "the sort of thing you find in a 'get by' phrase book", claims a doom-and-gloom report published yesterday.
That's the conclusion of The Corruption of the Curriculum by Shirley Lawes, which indicates that the government's decision in 2004 to allow GCSE pupils to drop languages has resulted in a predictable decline in the number of kids taking the exams, leading to a "dumbing down" of language curricula "as teachers react to the latest fads to revive pupils' waning enthusiasm".
Indeed, back in 2004, three quarters of GSCE pupils took language exams, a figure now down to a half. To add insult to injury, the government in March declared that kids "should be allowed to drop traditional French and German GCSEs in favour of exams in many languages, but only requiring a tourist's grasp".
Accordingly, Spanish is on the up-and-up, but "only because the country is a favourite with British holidaymakers".* According to Laws, subject leader for modern languages at London's Institute of Education, Arabic, Chinese, and Japanese are also on the ascendant since they're perceived as "trendy".
The upshot is, Laws claims, that languages will become an "elitist" subject, or "the preserve of independent schools", as the Telegraph puts it.
Laws warns: "The knock-on effect on universities in the next few years will be devastating. Already, 30 per cent of all new, young, modern languages undergraduates come from the independent sector, where the study of languages continues to be compulsory to GCSE level. Foreign languages are once again becoming an elitist subject area."
This dire situation has, Laws says, been provoked by politicians' and teachers' attempts to make the curricula more functional and entertaining, "to help pupils appreciate languages as relevant to future business needs or employment".
Laws laments: "They reduce foreign language study to a functional skill that teaches the sort of thing you find in a 'get by' phrase book. It is selling young people short and is unlikely to inspire anyone to see languages as anything other than mechanical and boring."
* I'm sure I'm not alone in finding this rather patronising. It's not unreasonable for kids to want to get a bit of Spanish if they spend their summers hols in Benidorm. Regarding the "mechanical and boring" claim, I was personally subjected to five years' O-Level French torture which was so overwhelmingly mechanical and boring, and bereft of any attempt to explain the potential benefits of speaking the lingo, that it simply reinforced my growing belief that petulant French waiters should be subjected to the time-honoured "wave your passport and speak louder in English" treatment.
You think that's bad----
Hey guys, try living in Wales. It is now compulsory to learn an archaic language (Welsh) which has slowed in develpement to the point where it has to borrow and "Taffify"(MY shorthand!) the English original. Cross the Severn Bridge, or in the North, the Welshpool border.and no one knows or cares what you're saying if you speak it. Could be the reason in this area why the drop off in foreign languages is prevelant. I was fortunate enough to learn German in school, and it was great fro me in the Army,and, later, in the police. It has been of great use to me throughout my life, in fact. It also gave me the incentive to learn some Dutch and Afrikaans(That's another story!) My Greek is not bad, but normal;ly starts and ends at the taverna door. But when you say in Greek to a Greek, "One for the road" (MIya ta ya dromo paracolo) it brings the house down. Push modern foreign languages says I! Must close now,and do my English homework!!!
Try this: How to be obnxious in french
Who helped me learn....
English? Mum (mmmm oral exercises...)
Finnish? Eija, Musti
Serbo-Croat? Dunja, Zdenka, Ljiljana
Russian? Farida, Sveta
oh, and I'm interested in languages, too ;-)