Lament For Languages

When David Beckham, arguably the most talented footballer of his generation went to play for Real Madrid, it was laughably noted that he would have little chance of speaking Spanish as he couldn’t really speak English that well.  However, numerous foreign players in the English premiership seem confident enough to give immediate post-match interviews,  reflecting articulately on the entire game even before the sweat on their faces has had time to dry.

Now we learn that GCSE languages results are in decline yet again.

We seem to have entered a downward spiral in the last six years as the government attributes less importance to modern languages, despite constant pleading from business bodies such as the CBI that we need more foreign language skills to compete in selling our products in increasingly complex foreign markets.

What’s going wrong?

Clearly, the lack of government support doesn’t help and reflects a poor understanding of the long term needs of the economy.

Secondly, languages are traditionally seen by pupils as hard, in comparison with some of their closest rivals – History, Geography and RS. Schools are under great pressure to demonstrate success and improvement. They can do this more easily by getting GCSEs in easier subjects, scoring better grades and therefore a higher position in league tables.

Thirdly, there is the question of interest. The appeal of Geography with such highly relevant topics such as climate change , or History, with its wealth of recent video footage to enhance teaching in a visual way compete heavily with French where the interest in an indirect object pronoun on a Friday afternoon may not be embraced with enthusiasm.

Fourthly, there is the question of learning styles. Teachers find themselves increasingly working with a sophisticated client group who are technologically proficient and media aware.  These learners can find working with sentences and verbs  too lacking in any sort of immediate social relevance.

Where is the solution? Government over-funding seems very unlikely at the present time and industrialists will continue to organise their own solutions. Is it all to be left to the private schools where languages are still highly valued and universally taught?

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