UK languages crisis threatening a generation of state school pupils

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Mark Thompson  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 15:45
Member
Portuguese to English
Scary May 14, 2010

Thanks Russell.

I remember at my UK comprehensive school in the 70s and 80s, we were obliged to have French classes early on and also German for a short period - I ended up choosing French as an 'O' - level subject but really lost interest along the way. My interest in languages came post-school.

I wonder how much of the problem is attributable to the "island culture" and a (general) British reluctance to speak anything other than English at home or abroad, aspects which I'd expect to have been banished with the advent of globalisation and the internet age.

Or is it just that the obvious benefits of other-language learning are not very well "marketed" to youngsters?

Well, if it continues like that, it keeps the wolf from my door anyway!

Interesting subject- anyone any other thoughts?

Mark


 

Alison Sabedoria  Identity Verified
France
Member (2009)
French to English
+ ...
Poorer foreign language skills means poorer English skills May 15, 2010

As Ian Gregory says in his comment on the Times article, pupils are losing out in English at the same time. It was through learning other languages that I eventually "discovered" English in my late teens.

Just as monoculture in agriculture and forestry is a misguided "efficient" short-term policy, so this British insular attitude will prove to be an expensive mistake and a cultural impoverishment, from which it will take decades to recover.

The British have traditionally been linguistically lazy, and the universal use of English in commerce and on the internet doesn't help. We no longer even have the excuse of the Empire to fall back on.

Foreign travel to exotic destinations has done little to encourage language learning, as most tourists flit from one country to another, where they stay in English-speaking "bubbles", or expect the locals to make all the linguistic efforts. I would like to see more signs saying "English NOT spoken here"!

I would like to see the learning of a British indigenous language (Welsh, Gaelic...) encouraged alongside foreign languages - it's not only other cultures the British need to learn more of; we have scant knowledge of our own.

Alison

[edited for typo]

[Edited at 2010-05-15 17:30 GMT]


 

Stanislav Pokorny  Identity Verified
Czech Republic
Local time: 18:45
English to Czech
+ ...
Very similar in the Czech Republic May 15, 2010

It's quite the same in the Czech Republic. Statistics show that less than 50% of fresh graduates from faculties of education ever start teaching, and only 30% of those who do stay longer than three years. The rest are looking for their careers elswhere.

No wonder. When I started as a teacher of English and German at a state secondary scool back in 2004, I got paid CZK 12,870 (approx. € 515) per month brutto. Or should I say "brutal"?

The result: highly-qualified teachers and language experts leave the education sector which, of course, has a devastating effect on the knowledge of foreign languages among Czech youngsters.


 

Natalia Elo  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 18:45
Member (2004)
English to Russian
+ ...
It's good, isn't it May 15, 2010

There will be enough work for translators and interpreters.

 

Victor Zagria
English to Ukrainian
+ ...
teachers' migration May 15, 2010

Stanislav Pokorny wrote:

It's quite the same in the Czech Republic. Statistics show that less than 50% of fresh graduates from faculties of education ever start teaching, and only 30% of those who do stay longer than three years. The rest are looking for their careers elswhere.
...........

The result: highly-qualified teachers and language experts leave the education sector which, of course, has a devastating effect on the knowledge of foreign languages among Czech youngsters.


No wonder, Stanislav, that so many of my university sub-group colleagues left for Poland, Germany, the Czech Republic, ... to teach English to local pupils. The salary you've quoted doesn't look 'brutal' to them for in the Ukraine it's times less.. One of the most wide-spread activities among language specialists here is offering private lessons. Every hard-working pupil has a phond-dream to study and eventually find some work abroad or even settle there, in a more successful environment..


 

mediamatrix (X)
Local time: 14:45
Spanish to English
+ ...
Nothing new under the sun May 15, 2010

Wordeffect wrote:
... so this British insular attitude will prove to be an expensive mistake and a cultural impoverishment, from which it will take decades to recover.


I remember hearing the exact same argument from my parents, way back in the 1960s, when I was supposed to become enthusiastic, as if by magic, when I was suddenly obliged to take up (I won't say 'study') French, German and Latin at what was supposed to be an 'English' grammar school. From what I can recall from those days (fortunately, rather little...) French was all about 'La plume de ma tante', German was dominated by 'Ich bin ein Berliner' and Latin was 'Veni, vidi ... ' hmmm sorry, can't remember the rest!

When those in charge of UK education begin to understand that language teaching needs to be (or at least 'appear to be') relevant, perhaps there will be greater interest on the part of students, parents - and even teachers - in the provision of language classes. In the meantime, lets be grateful that 'everyone speaks English' ... errr - don't they?

MediaMatrix


 

John Rawlins  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 18:45
Spanish to English
+ ...
More school failure please May 17, 2010

Natalia Elo wrote:

There will be enough work for translators and interpreters.


Natalia may be right. Perhaps it is in our interests to welcome a collapse in foreign language teaching at schools. The result will be more and better paid work for us.


 

Richard Bartholomew  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 18:45
Member (2007)
German to English
The Brits do that. May 18, 2010

A long time ago, I dismissed the notion of taking up translation for a living with the thought that the Brits do all that. They were the ones living cheek by jowl with continental Europe after all. Ergo, they would be foreign language wizards whilst we poor, benighted Yanks wandered aimlessly in the drab, dreary jungle of untutored mediocrity.

But now I read that the Brits' foreign language prowess, and even that of the Czechs appearently, is on average more on a par with that of the US Americans'. Considering some of the miserable, semi-literate attempts at written expression I've seen posted around the internet, I suggest we start by learning to use our mother tongues adequately. Sometimes I wonder how people manage to communicate with one another at all.


 

B D Finch  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 18:45
Member (2006)
French to English
+ ...
The languages that don't get counted May 18, 2010

Victor Zagria wrote:

No wonder, Stanislav, that so many of my university sub-group colleagues left for Poland, Germany, the Czech Republic, ... to teach English to local pupils. The salary you've quoted doesn't look 'brutal' to them for in the Ukraine it's times less.. One of the most wide-spread activities among language specialists here is offering private lessons. Every hard-working pupil has a phond-dream to study and eventually find some work abroad or even settle there, in a more successful environment..


Poles Czechs and Germans speaking English with Ukrainian accents will be interesting. It reminds me of my French teacher at grammar school, who told me that I had a "dreadful Marseille accent" - unlike her Yorkshire accent, I consoled myself that at least mine was French!

I don't know what proportion of the British population speaks another language such as Urdu, Gujerati, Arabic, Polish ... I believe that a lot of people in Britain speak, besides English, at least one language that they didn't learn in school. Unfortunately, these languages don't count and aren't valued. There doesn't even seem to be an awareness in the education system that these linguistic skills might make learning a third or fourth language in school easier for those pupils, or even that they might be offered the opportunity of studying for a GCSE in the language they know from home. My mother told me that her parents (Polish Jews), spoke Polish, Russian, German and Yiddish as well as English. However, my mother wanted to fit in and so spoke only English. Apparently, this situation was not helped by her parents using their languages to exclude their children from conversations.

If the education system valued the languages of children for whom English is their second language, it would also give a valuable message encouraging all pupils to think of languages as something they could do as well.


 

Stanislav Pokorny  Identity Verified
Czech Republic
Local time: 18:45
English to Czech
+ ...
Accents May 18, 2010

Poles Czechs and Germans speaking English with Ukrainian accents will be interesting.

icon_biggrin.gif
In fact, my accent in German is dreadful Viennese and my English is RP one.


 


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