The European Year of Languages-2001: The Enhancement of Language Education in the UK

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A key aspect of Europe's cultural heritage is its linguistic diversity and all European languages play a vital role in this diversity. The year is not just about learning a new language so as to make communication easier but is rather about appreciating other cultures and using newly acquired language skills to assist this cultural understanding.

The year is intended to make us all aware of the advantages of language competence which includes enhanced employability and career prospects. The acquisition of additional language skills can also play a major role in job satisfaction which in turn results in increased productivity and competitiveness. As increasing productivity is the key purpose of the management services profession, the European Year of Languages clearly has implications for the Institute.

In Britain we often feel smug that English is a universal language and as such we have no need to acquire skills in the use of other languages as we assume - wrongly that the whole world speaks English. In fact Britain is now a much more diverse, multicultural society but still we lack the language skills of many of our European neighbours. Right across Europe there is increasing mobility for both work and leisure yet other languages are seldom taught in British primary schools.

Decreasing numbers of our teenagers continue with another language beyond the age of 16, and a growing number of parents in the UK would like their children to start learning a foreign language at an early age in primary school and not have to wait until they enter secondary school.

In 1998 the Nuffield Foundation recognised the need for action with regard to language education and set up an independent inquiry - "The Nuffield Languages Inquiry" under the joint chairmanship of Sir Trevor McDonald and Sir John Boyd. The inquiry was required to review the UK's capacity in languages and the subsequent report (published in 1999) made a series of key recommendations. The report concluded that languages, by virtue of their direct contribution to economic competitiveness, intercultural tolerance and social cohesion, should have the status of a key skill alongside literacy and numeracy. In the foreword to the report Sir Trevor McDonald and Sir John Boyd state:

"We want to see language skills built into the culture and practice of British Business."

The main findings of the report included:

We are fortunate to speak a global language but, in a smart and competitive world, exclusive reliance on English leaves the UK vulnerable and dependent on the linguistic competence and goodwill of others.

People are looking for leadership to improve the nation's capability in languages.

Young people from the UK are at a disadvantage in the recruitment market

The Government has no coherent approach to languages.

In spite of parental demand, there is no UK-wide agenda for children to start languages early.

On 25th January 2001 Schools Minister Jacqui Smith announced the Government's response to theNuffield Languages Inquiry Report She stated:

"The Nuffield Foundation's report `Languages: The Next Generation' calls for a radical change in culture to promote Modern Foreign Languages in education and business across the country." The Minister confirmed the Government's intention to fulfil the Nuffield vision that modern foreign language teaching should commence at primary school.

In 1999 the Department for Education and Employment (DfEE), being aware that the Nuffield inquiry into languages was underway and also that the year 2001 had been declared as the European Year of Languages, announced (on 25th March) that it was setting up the Early Language Learning initiative to support and develop the teaching of modern foreign languages in primary schools. The initiative is being coordinated by the Centre for Information in Language Teaching (CILT) on behalf of the DfEE. …