Recent research on behalf of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills shows that the lack of language skills in the UK is costing the nation an estimated £48bn a year, while the latest A level and GCSE results showed a drop in the number of some modern language entries, sparking concerns over the lack of recognition of the need for foreign language learning.
Education Reporter SONJA ASTBURY looks at some of the work being done in our schools to reverse the trend.
When Linda Swayne was nominated for a top award she didn’t understand what all the fuss was about. The efforts she goes to to engage pupils both inside and outside of the classroom is all in a day’s work for the French and German teacher.
Her love of languages, and desire to spread the message among her pupils at All Hallows Catholic High School in Penwortham, has landed her the title of runner-up in the National German Teacher of the Year Awards. Linda was humbled.
She said: “It was absolutely lovely to get the award and I was really proud to be among like minded people who lose to teach languages, particularly German. This award isn’t for me but the whole department. Any one of us could have won that award but if it puts us on the map and promotes languages it has to be good.” Besides her day job, Linda has been organising a host of extra-curricular activities, including trips abroad, to encourage and develop language skills and give pupils more than a text-book taste of different languages and culture.
She likes to “get them immersed in languages and culture.”
Linda says: “Purely by being in that country the pupils are able to put their skills into practice and they can see the relevance of learning a language.
“They learn subliminally by seeing signs and posters and by hearing words they recognise or can guess because of the context. It goes without saying that there are benefits both culturally and socially. They gain independence and improve their communication skills. The images of “stereo types” are dispelled and they discover new and beautiful parts of the world as well as seeing teachers in a different light, which is always a revelation to pupils!
“Long after our pupils have left All Hallows their memories and experiences of foreign languages visits will stay with them forever. This is what makes it all so worthwhile.”
The school was one of the first specialist language colleges.but that status went with the change of government, However, despite a change in national emphasis on language skills, The subject has continued to thrive andAll Hallows boasts an enviable number of pupils getting high grades at GCSE.
It is the lead school in the to the Preston and South Ribble Language Network, working with primary schools and sharing good practices to try to keep the flag flying for languages.
Faculty director Catherine Pascucci often quotes that fact that, much to the amazement of most Brits, three quarters, a staggering 75 per cent, of the world’s population speaks no English.
She says: “We work with the colleges to try to encourage our students to carry on with languages after GCSE but people don’t seem to acccept how important language skills are.
“These are transferable skills and but it is still not compulsory at GCSE and that really is the issue. It is nationally recognised that a B in languages is equal to an A in any other subject and many of the big employers , 94 per cent, and key universities use it as a benchmark because that getting a high grade in a language really does mean you are clever.”
Geoffrey Bowden, General Secretary of the Association of Translation Companies emphasises the need for awareness of the importance of foreign language education for graduates, to boost employability opportunities and reduce limiting the UK economy’s potential with foreign interests.
Bowden says: “People think that knowing a second language is just handy for a summer holiday but the impact of language education spans much further than convenience. In today’s global economy the demand for language services continues to grow, with businesses and organisations growing more dependent on establishing relationships with foreign markets. As a nation it is therefore important that we are not a step behind, and the only way to ensure this is to educate the next generation of employees on the importance of language skills in building the economy.”
Over at Walton-le-Dale Primary School pupils re getting to grips with languages early. Louise Jackson runs her award-winning Jolie Ronde classes in French and Spanish during lunch-time break and as after-school activities.
She said: “We make learning fun and the children love it,. They don’t realise they are learning.”