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Worrying news for the future of translation in the UK: Modern Lang. Dept. in Bradford Univ. closing
Thread poster: Yurena Sar
Yurena Sar
Spain
Local time: 06:34
English to Spanish
+ ...
Apr 30, 2008

Colleagues,

I guess most of you have already read this...

The Modern Languages Department in Bradford University (one of the best in the UK when it comes to training new talent in our field) is closing down, alleging 'financial reasons'.

Here is the link to the news:

http://www.iti.org.uk/indexMain.html

I can not help but feel saddened by this

Yurena

[Subject edited by staff or moderator 2008-04-30 04:27]


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Charlie Bavington  Identity Verified
Local time: 06:34
French to English
On the other hand... Apr 30, 2008

... imagine, if all pupils and students in the UK were taught modern languages to such a degree (ha!) that they could all more or less make sense of documents written in French, Spanish, German, Italian, etc.

Then as these youngsters become adults and move into the world of work, they would have correspondingly less need of our services to translate business documents, understand procedures issued by their parent companies in Europe (or elsewhere), etc.

Yes, of course, I do fully appreciate your point of view, that langage learning is a good thing for reasons we probably all fully appreciate.

But speaking purely selfishly, the fewer Brits there are who can read French to a reasonable level, the more my services will be required. Therefore I cannot agree that one less degree course in modern languages is unequivocally A Bad Thing. Sorry


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Buzzy
Local time: 07:34
French to English
This is sad news Apr 30, 2008

Your link doesn't seem to work so I haven't read the report, but I'm still staggered. I'm not a Bradford graduate but thought its reputation for excellence was a given. I'm often back in England on holiday in August when the A level results come out and have observed the declining number of language A levels - then meet many Brits living round here in Normandy who genuinely didn't realise what a handicap not speaking French would be when moving over permanently...

Point taken, Charlie, about monolingual English speakers needing more translation work - but to me this is a symptom of a British (anglophone?) disregard for the importance of foreign languages...


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Jack Doughty  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 06:34
Member (2000)
Russian to English
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Alternative link Apr 30, 2008

I can't make that link either, but try this for "The Times" on the same story.
http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?storyCode=400487§ioncode=26


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Spencer Allman
United Kingdom
Local time: 06:34
Finnish to English
Sad but not threatening Apr 30, 2008

Of course it is sad that foreign languages are not taken seriously in the UK

On the other hand translation is a million miles from learning foreign languages, and all the indications are that the demand for translation services has been going up and is predicted to continue to rise


spencer


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Yurena Sar
Spain
Local time: 06:34
English to Spanish
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TOPIC STARTER
Apologies the link did not work! Apr 30, 2008

I am pasting below the text found on ITI.

Petition Language Teaching

ITI Office 23 April 2008

The Modern Languages department at Bradford University,UK, is closing down - there is to be no more Post-Grad or degree-level language teaching at the university for 'financial reasons'. A petition has been started and can be accessed at the following address:

http://petitions.pm.gov.uk/interpreting/

expressing concern over the future of training in translation and interpreting.


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Tina Colquhoun  Identity Verified
Local time: 06:34
Danish to English
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Language teaching Apr 30, 2008

Language teaching in English (don't know about Scottish) schools has generally been sidelined. My son is about to take his GCSEs and I was appalled to find out that only French is offered and even then it's OPTIONAL.

Learning languages is good for lateral thinking as well as for impressing on the little buggers that not everyone in the world speaks English (not an easy fact for an Englishman to grasp).

In addition, my son's school offered a year of German and a year of Chinese - but only sort of for fun as it wasn't possible to take an exam in either. This lack of solid language teaching is a great shame especially as the school employs native speakers of both German and French.

Sadly, I think this is a general trend and obviously lack of 'feeder schools' presents Bradford et al with a problem. The number of applicants for language courses at English universities has been falling steadily in the last few years. But so, I believe, have the numbers for Science. Wittgenstein only knows what everyone is actually applying for...

Tina


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Nesrin  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 06:34
English to Arabic
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Lack of interest a more likely reason Apr 30, 2008

As the Times Higher Education article shows, it's more a case of lack of interest than lack of financial resources.
Like Tina, I'm appalled by the little importance that's attached to language learning up to year 6 (I've no kids in secondary school yet so I can't judge them). My daughter had one year of "occasional" French lessons in year 5, all of which is forgotten by now, one year later.
In Germany on the other hand, I've just been told that English will now be taught from year 1.

Unfortunately, it's seems to be the same trend everywhere: it's no longer about the importance of languages, but about the importance of English. So while everyone in the world is doing their best to catch up, the Brits are becoming terribly complacent and confident that eventually, language learning in Britain may become a thing of the past. And who can blame them?

[Edited at 2008-04-30 10:47]


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xxxJPW  Identity Verified
Local time: 06:34
Spanish to English
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Oh dear... Apr 30, 2008

I was at a course a few weeks ago for a new initiative in Northern Irish schools: the primary modern languages programme, aimed at key stage 1 and upwards. It is a totally new idea here, with the aim of training kids as young as possible to enjoy languages, so that when they get to secondary level, they won't be put off so much.

Part of the problem is the way languages are taught: Latin was literally thumped into us (okay, not a modern language BUT very useful for a good grounding in romance languages).

The thing that worried me was the way everyone was praising how **different** it is in England where they have now 'sorted out' their issues surrounding language teaching.

But reading the postings here this morning I see that this is far from the case. Oh dear.


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Nikki Graham  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 06:34
Partial member (2003)
Spanish to English
Language teaching has been going downhill for years Apr 30, 2008

I was teaching French and German in the academic year 1988/1999 (I think I remember the dates correctly) when GCSEs were introduced instead of O levels and A level examination content changed too. For O levels, and of course A levels, in my day, we had to translate quite a substantial chunk of text in the examinations. But translation was scrapped for the GCSEs I taught and the text for translation in the A level examination was even shorter than the ones we used to have in O levels. I remember that one of my students, two weeks before his French exam, did not know how to conjugate the verb to be, or, for that matter have, yet he walked away with an A grade and thought he'd be able to do A level, but as he lacked any real knowledge of the language, he had to drop out of the course after a couple of weeks. I had left the country by that stage, for personal reasons, but I was no longer interested in teaching languages in the UK after the changes that were brought in. I have often wondered how universities have coped in the interim, as the standard of the students entering must be lower than it was before (simply because far less is now demanded of them and taught), and they must have had to adapt their courses accordingly.

[Edited at 2008-04-30 11:17]


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xxxJPW  Identity Verified
Local time: 06:34
Spanish to English
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Nikki, I totally agree... Apr 30, 2008

We were the last year to take O levels when I went to school in Belfast, then they brought in the GCSE. I also did one of these 'for fun': no comparison at all; but then, it's not PC to say that, even now. That was back in the late eighties.

And when I studied Law in London, even worse: some of the (English) students were taken aside and told to improve their grasp of the (for them, native) language or they wouldn't get very far. I was appalled.

So it's not just foreign language tuition that is going to the dogs. English, and to the same extent, basic mathematics, are also suffering.

Even when we were transferring from O level to A level (languages) the teachers stressed the importance of bridging the substantial gap which existed between the two: if you don't like reading (in ANY language), don't consider doing A level languages was what we were told.

With the introduction of the GCSE that gap can only have widened - unless of course they watered down the A level courses too.

For those that think those remarks a bit controversial, take any subject and compare exam papers a decade apart, and then you may see the difference.


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Nikki Graham  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 06:34
Partial member (2003)
Spanish to English
More comments Apr 30, 2008

John Paul Weir wrote:

And when I studied Law in London, even worse: some of the (English) students were taken aside and told to improve their grasp of the (for them, native) language or they wouldn't get very far. I was appalled.

So it's not just foreign language tuition that is going to the dogs. English, and to the same extent, basic mathematics, are also suffering.

With the introduction of the GCSE that gap can only have widened - unless of course they watered down the A level courses too.

For those that think those remarks a bit controversial, take any subject and compare exam papers a decade apart, and then you may see the difference.


I remember getting blank faces when trying to explain something in a French O level class, so for a couple of sessions I had to teach them basic English grammer so they would understand how to build a sentence in French.

And yes, that's the point I was trying to make. The A level standard dropped immediately when the GCSEs were brought in and the exam content was drastically different. As far as I remember, my colleagues complained about much the same thing in their subjects too.

I don't wish to offend anyone who has taken GCSEs and A levels since then, but before the late eighties, learning a language and being examined in it was a totally different ball game.


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xxxhazmatgerman
Local time: 07:34
English to German
Marketing aspects Apr 30, 2008

Dear colleagues,
I'd like to add a few remarks on what I perceive as an Anglo-Saxon decline in language teaching.
One, the fewer languages my economic competitor speaks the better my chances are in foreign markets. Two, if I understand less of what goes on elsewhere those who understand more are in a favourable position. Three, whatever the state system fails to deliver may be offered py the private sector, i.e. resident language professionals. Four, not knowing hot languages has and probably will lead to significant misinterpretations from a global security point of view.
So the decline could well be turned into a marketing opportunity for countries and for persons, and may result in more easily concealed sinister intentions by the "usual suspects".
Regards


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xxxJPW  Identity Verified
Local time: 06:34
Spanish to English
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Again, you're not wrong... Apr 30, 2008

...hazmatgerman, but I think there is a wider issue here. If fewer people study languages and there is a (drastic or not) decline, it has a knock-on effect. Who will teach the up and coming generations, for example? And if there is no one to teach them, how then can they in turn go forward and make a career from their chosen language(s), be that as another teacher, an interpreter or a translator (the list is not exhaustive by the way).

When I was at school, twent years ago, sciences were being promoted in a big way."We need more science students" - not untrue, but at what expense?- and "Don't study languages as it will limit your prospects later on", we were told. Or at the very least, do a mixture (not a bad suggestion, as it turns out). Anyone who plumped for languages alone, even if they were exceptional at them, was somehow viewed as either odd, or downright inferior. I take the opposite view: anyone who doesn't have a second language, even at a basic conversational level, is narrow-minded and poorly cultured.

I agree that it seems to be a particularly English (UK?) problem this, but the same thing could easily happen in other countries too, in fact it probably does. All it takes is an unreceptive government, or one which plays political football with education policies and makes the problem worse. So much for a certain person's certain promise on 'Education, education, education'...which virtually got him into government, - but then nobody should have been fooled by that clichéd slogan in the first place.

A decline in standards is still a decline, no matter how small. When crime figures drop, even modestly, look how much the government of the day makes a fuss. A decline in standards should be addressed, halted, then turned around. Otherwise failure ensues and the crisis deepens.

For what it was worth, I did sign the petition by the way.


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RobinB  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 07:34
German to English
Not particularly surprising Apr 30, 2008

Yurena Sar wrote: The Modern Languages Department in Bradford University (one of the best in the UK when it comes to training new talent in our field) is closing down, alleging 'financial reasons'.


1) The number of young people learning foreign languages and school in the UK, and then going on to study them at university, is declining massively, especially for FIGS. And when you consider that grammatical mistakes are not marked down in A-level exams any more, then it's probably a miracle that these kids have more than a passing knowledge of any language, including their own. A clear legacy of the Thatcher/Major/Blair years (I'm not sure if he'll last long enough to add "Brown" to that list...)

2) The typical one-year MA translation courses in England found today are generally entirely inadequate. In many cases, it's easy to get the impression that if students pay their fees, they'll get the degree. These courses simply don't bear comparison with what was on offer up to the end of the 1990s.

3) While some English MA courses focus far too much on translation technology, without actually teaching the students how to translate, others (and - based on a recent interview we had - I fear that Bradford may well be one of them) fail miserably on both counts. An MA translation course that doesn't require a lot of background subject-area research from its students, and indeed that doesn't even teach its students how to research properly in the first place, and that doesn't give them a thorough grounding in the principles and practice of translation, deserves to be closed down.

4) As employers, our overall impression is that graduates holding a recent English translation MA are at about the same level - in terms of language skills and translation ability - as the BA/BSc applied languages graduates of the 1990s. Many of them seem to be incapable of writing a CV and covering letter in proper, grammatical English, far less translate coherently into their native language. And their seeming isolation from the world around them (other than mindlessly regurgitating soundbites) is alarming.

It's easy to get the feeling that not only are the computers getting better, the humans are getting worse. And that the computers will gain the upper hand within the next 10 years or so.

Harrumph.

Robin

[Edited at 2008-04-30 13:40]


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