The title of the blog pretty much sums up the actual state of language learning education in the UK right now; inconsistent and non-coherent to most people.
Many of you may recognise a few of the languages and there may be others of you who can completely understand the entire sentence due to the fact that the readership of Lingua Translations’ widely read language-related blog are predominantly language-lovers, myself included.
However, those interested in languages and who choose to study languages at GCSE level, A-Level and Degree level are very much now the minority. Despite government attempts to make learning a foreign language in Primary Schools obligatory and learning a foreign language being a compulsory element of the Baccalaureate at GCSE level, no vast improvements in numbers have been seen to date. The latest annual survey carried out by CILT “Language Trends 2013/14” noted that although “The EBacc continues to have a positive effect on the take-up of languages in Key Stage 4 and the number of schools with more than 50 per cent of their pupils taking a language has continued to rise, there is no evidence yet of any widespread positive impact of the EBacc on take-up for languages post-16.”
Obligatory secondary language learning in education
In Wales, learning Welsh as a secondary language in school became compulsory for all pupils until the age of 14 in 1990 and up to 16 in 1999. The Crown Body, Estyn (the office of Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Education and Training in Wales) stated in their 2012/13 Annual Report that: “GCSE Welsh second-language courses do not produce bilingual pupils or young people who are sufficiently confident to use the language in their everyday lives. Welsh is a statutory subject for every pupil until the end of key stage 4. GCSE second language qualifications are the culmination of 11 years of learning Welsh as a second language. This is a considerable investment by the Welsh Government.” Therefore if learning the Welsh language for 11 years has not increased the number of students using the language in later employment and in their everyday lives, why is the British Government convinced that the same methods will achieve better results in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland?
There were only 8 of us who opted to take the full GCSE Welsh course in my High School (200 students in my year), and 7 of us who studied the language at a large Further Education College; Coleg Glan Hafren (6 000 students in my year) for AS Level. In fact, due to there not being enough interest in the subject I was unable to continue learning Welsh as an A-Level as the college had no provisions for this course. The Media often heavily stresses how less students are studying languages and that employers are crying out for linguistic skills, but they fail to report that those who would actually like to do language courses are often unable to due to lack of demand and therefore the courses not being financially viable. In my High School, Spanish at GCSE level did not run due to lack of demand and in my College, I studied both French and Italian at A-Level as a night course as there were not enough students interested in the course for the full-time day course to run so they merged the evening and day courses together. This of course had a direct impact on my grades because how could I possibly learn as much in 2 hours a week as the 5 hours a week I should have had if the day course had run? Therefore the falling numbers of students is in no way helped by the lack of courses that are run compared to several years ago.
Doubts about the quality of Primary School Teaching
One of the major debates which has recently sparked concerning learning French as a secondary language in Primary School is that many of the teachers themselves cannot speak a foreign language. Language Trends 2013/4 found that “GCSE is the highest level of linguistic ability amongst staff in 24% of schools.” Therefore in 24% of schools there is not even one teacher who has studied a foreign language after GCSE. How can teachers therefore be expected to provide a solid foundation of the language, full of the enthusiasm that the Primary School curriculum currently demands if they themselves were most probably not interested in the language. I myself do not believe that a teacher needs to have full command of a language to be able to teach it at Key Stage 2 and 3, but I do however think that it must be a lot harder to convey excitement and enthusiasm for learning French than it would for say a subject like Art. Rebecca Ratcliffe, a journalist for the Guardian stated in 2013 that although it is the government’s wish for learning a foreign language to be as important as all the other subjects in the Primary School curriculum, only 20 minutes a week is being dedicated to learning a foreign language, and this is by no means enough to produce bilingual students at an early age.
The debate regarding the continual decline in language learning and students opting to learn a foreign language after KS3 is very subjective and there are many elements involved. It is evident that more class time needs to be dedicated to learning language in Primary Schools, more comprehensive training should be provided to teachers who may have limited linguistic abilities themselves and more concentration should be kept on keeping College and University Language departments open. If the number of students opting to study languages is indeed falling every year, then those few students who do still wish to continue learning languages should not be hindered from doing so.