Why we shouldn't give up on foreign languages
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In 2004 we, along with Ireland, became the only country in the EU where learning a foreign language is not compulsory after the age of 14. At the same time the rest of Europe was increasing the extent to which students were obliged to study languages. Should we be worried that we are swimming against the tide? “It is SO STUPID!” My Dutch housemate tells me, “Most people think it is a bit dumb because we can’t imagine only speaking one language.” And she’s right. We may have dismissed foreign language learning as unnecessary but the result of our poor language skills is worse than coming across as an ignorant Brit on holiday who can barely utter the word “gracias.” Since 2004 language up take at GCSE and A-level has been in steady decline. In 2001 eight out of ten students took a language at GCSE but by 2010 just 40 % chose to take a language. In February 2013 the department of education published a report entitled “European Survey on Language Competences: Language Proficiency in England.” It will come as no surprise that we are bottom of the class. But it doesn’t seem to be worrying us too much. We have always held our hands up and admitted that we are no good at language learning, as if being British makes you somehow inherently incapable of learning a language. But it’s time we stopped passively accepting our lack of language skills with a jolly “oh aren’t we hopeless” shrug of the shoulders. In January of last year David Thomas wrote in the Daily Mail: “Learning foreign languages is a pleasant form of intellectual self-improvement: a genteel indulgence like learning to embroider or play the violin.” Well so, you could argue, is becoming widely read, or having a great knowledge of art, but I don’t see the British government removing English from the core curriculum anytime soon.
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