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One world, one language?

July 29th, 2009 by Emily

I used to fear French at school. I could never get to grips with it. English GCSE, Maths A-level, - no problem. But for some unknown reason I always struggled with languages, and French GCSE was my particular bugbear. Mustering up the enthusiasm to learn the dialect of our Parisian cousins seemed an impossible task, and I can recall spending the vast majority of French lessons idly daydreaming at the back of the class, counting down the minutes until the bell rang.

It seems today's children are finding their language lessons just as much of a struggle as I did. The latest Ofsted report about the teaching of languages in schools (published in July 2008) found that average Key Stage 3 results from teacher assessments are below those of other subjects. Although there has been an improvement in Key Stage 4 results, Ofsted's 'Changing landscapes of languages' report said the "number of students studying languages is much reduced, largely because the subject is no longer statutory".

Fortunately, my unwillingness to learn another language has done me no harm in later life, although many of the parents I know are very keen for their children to be able to converse in other languages.

My logic as a child was that, as English is spoken by the entire Western world, one would only need two props when visiting other countries: a basic phrasebook and a mini Union Jack incorporated into a flag, sticker, badge or hat.

It's true that the number of foreign language classes is dwindling by the year, as more and more people embrace English as the universal form of communication. Would the time currently allocated to foreign language lessons be put to better use for extra English studies or practical skills training, or do we risk turning into a monotone global society if we jettison foreign language tuition?

In fact, as the opportunities for travelling, working and living in other countries become more extensive and more widely available it could be that we need to put more importance, not less, on our children's foreign language education.

Categories: French