Improve Foreign Language Teaching

The Evening Standard (London, England), August 16, 2013 | Go to article overview

Improve Foreign Language Teaching


FOREIGN-language teaching in British schools should begin far earlier. In Holland, France, Germany and Greece many pupils start learning English at nursery -- so early that they might as well have been brought up bilingual. At the other end of the school age range, learning a language should remain compulsory for as long as possible; for the less confident, not necessarily with the object of getting a GCSE but maybe just a course certificate. Students can always pick up the language again later on.

A huge problem with languages in the classroom is that they are so often taught negatively, with the emphasis on testing pupils to find out what they don't know rather than building confidence about what they do. If there was much greater focus on engaging with things like film and music, language options might prove more enticing.

Language exchanges are an important and memorable part of a linguist's school career -- I studied three languages at school and was lucky enough to go on five. Any means by which schools can be supported to offer them are welcome.

With rare exceptions such as Nick Clegg, how often do we hear British politicians speaking a foreign language? Should not Michael Gove and other ministers be more forthcoming about their own language skills, and go to the effort of learning new languages themselves? Young people could also have some fantastic role models if F1 drivers, football players and actors talked publicly about their multilingualism and how important it has been to their careers. …

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