When it comes to language learning in the UK, the figures aren’t great. Less and less students are taking languages but we’re hearing more and more stories about the increased importance put on learning them. So where do we stand? I think that more needs to be done to encourage young people to study languages and there must be a clearer policy when it comes to languages in education.
Since 2004, studying a language at GCSE has been optional in the UK, however the new English Baccalaureate will only be awarded to students that take GCSEs in language subjects. Furthermore, there are set to be changes to the way league tables are calculated to encourage more students to take languages, and Universities like UCL will soon only consider applicants who have studied a language at GCSE level.
We are giving young people such mixed messages when it comes to studying languages. One minute languages are optional but then they won’t get the English Bac without them – is this a case of a bit too little, too late? With schools and students both unsure of where they stand when it comes to language learning, the current situation is too contradictory and I think that languages should again become compulsory to ensure the UK remains competitive and that British students get the best future job prospects.
As business becomes increasingly international, languages have become a crucial skill for employers, but we’re finding fewer and fewer British graduates with strong language skills as those that took their GCSEs once languages were no longer compulsory are now coming out of the education system. This needs to change if we want young people to have the best chance of finding a job and if we want British business to remain competitive.
What do you think?
Why the government made languages optional, as the business world becomes increasingly international, is still somewhat of a mystery to me. Employers need more linguists than ever to help them build and maintain strong relationships with customers and colleagues overseas, but statistics show there are less and less young people learning languages at school since they stopped being compulsory. A recent report by Ofsted highlights that some state schools have not one pupil taking a foreign language GCSE and only a third have reached the target of having half of their students taking a modern language GCSE.
It seems that rather than admit the error of its ways and make languages compulsory once again, the government is trying to come up with other ways of producing future linguists. It is proposing that the way schools are ranked is changed and saying that they should be judged on the level of success at GCSE in five subjects, one of which is a foreign language.
Although if this does happen it will hopefully increase the number of young people learning languages, is it too little too late? Many schools are not geared up for such high levels of language teaching after the government made them compulsory – “You can’t have schools judged against criteria that were not previously in place,” said National Union of Teachers leader Christine Blower.
So, what will happen in the future? Whatever legislation the government decides to implement, we hope that schools will be encouraged to get as many of their students as possible taking languages, and encourage them to pursue these subjects past the age of 16. Language skills can lead to some great jobs – see our posts in the category ‘language jobs’ if you need proof!
Seven years after the Labour government removed the compulsory requirement for students to study a foreign language at age fourteen, the Government of today looks set to change things. A recent article in the Guardian reports that in a shake-up of the league tables, the number of pupils taking a language should increase.
New plans will see every school rewarded for the amount of students who achieve good grades in English, maths, science, a language and one humanity subject. Currently, some schools are seen to boost their league table scores through offering softer subjects like media. This is great news and should see the number of pupils learning a second language increase to the levels seen prior to 2003. In fact, if schools want to rate high in the league tables it will see languages at GCSE being compulsory. With more pupils studying language GCSE’s we hope this will result in more carrying on studying them at A-Level and university. Continue reading
Is this the way forward? Simply not allowing pupils into a particular sixth form if they have not studied a language at GCSE? Well according to two schools in Essex it is the very answer! Both schools have claimed that from 2012 no pupils will be accepted into their sixth form unless they have at least one GCSE in a language – furthermore they have to have gained at least a C grade!
Harsh or fair you may ask? Can you really turn pupils away if they do not fit this requirement? Apparently so and the reason the two schools are giving is the deepening language crisis in the UK. The news has been filled with stories in recent months about a reduction in the number of pupils taking up GCSE’s in languages – after all it is now no longer compulsory and we have blogged on the subject very recently. Continue reading
When you learn a language at school, say for GCSE or at A-Level are you equipped with the necessary skills to get by in the country in question? This was the question asked in a recent article on the BBC. We all know that the uptake of languages at GCSE and A-Level is decreasing but for those who do pursue a language are they coming out with just a qualification or do they have the ability to speak the language?
The BBC article suggests not and whilst French is generally the language us Brits can speak, or can say a few words in even those that pursue it often don’t come away with an ability to speak it. In fact language expert Paul Noble goes as far as to say that “students realise that even if they do get a GCSE in French, they still won’t be able to speak the language”
So does this explain the reason why students are not taking up the language? It may be one reason but another one is surely that it is not compulsory to do so. If it were students may be inclined to carry on learning the language after GCSE.
We’ve blogged about this issue before and we certainly think that languages should be compulsory but what we also believe is that students should be taught in such a way that they can speak the language once they have finished their learning. Maybe a possible option is to make exchanges with other countries mandatory so pupils visit the country and have to speak the language?
What are your thoughts? If you studied a language at school were you able to speak it when you finished the course?
There has been a lot of controversy lately over Ed Balls’ announcement that all children should be given the opportunity to learn Mandarin, the world’s most popular language. Critics called it a gimmick, saying that there wouldn’t be enough teachers and that the government should instead concentrate on addressing the lack of mainstream language learning. Continue reading
We’ve blogged before about the falling number of students taking GCSEs in languages. According to CILT, the National Centre for Languages, this year only 44% of GSCE students took a language – compared to 78% ten years ago. We all know that today’s marketplace is becoming more global and without the language skills that enable us to communicate on a global scale, UK business is going to suffer dramatically in the future.
With this in mind I was pleased to see on Twitter recently a link to a petition calling for the re-introduction of a compulsory language GSCE. Please click on the link below and sign your name – hopefully it will be given some serious consideration.
It’s no surprise that ever since the government made the learning of a foreign language at GCSE level optional, the number of students taking them has fallen. But according to the exam board, Cambridge Assessment, only 75% of the highest achievers take a GCSE exam in a modern language – that’s down from 94% 25 years ago. The research also said that Spanish is set to overtake German as the second most popular language after French.
Three quarters of the highest achievers studying languages is still a high percentage, however it’s worrying that this number has decreased so dramatically. And if it’s falling among the brightest students, what about the rest of the school population? More efforts need to be made to encourage language learning, or the pipeline of linguistic talent in the UK will continue to shrink.