Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Language learning in Britain

From the BBC: the man in charge of reviewing the national curriculum for 14-19 year olds wants foreign languages to have a much higher profile in British education. Mike Tomlinson says that 'when it comes to learning languages the British are "barbarians".' Can't really argue with that. And his emphasis seems to be on language learning for practical use rather than passing exams. Of course, the question is where this would be fitted into an already jam-packed curriculum which is largely orientated to passing exams. (Tomlinson also wants a move away from that, it seems.)

I don't know whether things are at all different here in west Wales where a second, 'foreign' language (foreign to most Brits, that is to say) is regularly spoken, bilingualism is common, and there are several Welsh-medium schools. Does that social and educational context create a different attitude to the importance of other languages? I'm not sure that those who are brought up bilingual from birth necessarily find learning new languages later in life any easier than us monoglots (I have some extremely limited anecdotal evidence to suggest not: ie, the occasional conversation in pubs), but increasing numbers of non-Welsh speaking parents are sending their kids to Welsh schools, and I wonder if being made to learn AND, more importantly, daily use a second language at 5+ might give advantages for ease of further language learning later on.

All I know is that my school O'level French is lamentable, ditto German almost non-existent, and learning Welsh is one of the hardest things I've ever done in my life. (I can read some Latin for research purposes, but it's extremely limited.)

But as long as English remains such a global force, will we monoglot Brits ever become less barbaric? What real incentives are there to improve?

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