Brits have poor language skills
Thread poster: Susanna Garcia

Susanna Garcia  Identity Verified
Local time: 02:59
Italian to English
+ ...
In memoriam
May 9, 2011

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-13314147

Oh really!!

As an ex languages teacher, I cannot believe this even surprises anyone.


 

IrimiConsulting  Identity Verified
Sweden
Local time: 03:59
Member (2010)
English to Swedish
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Similar trends in Swedish high schools May 9, 2011

In the Swedish high school system, the students can pick and choose courses fairly freely, including language courses. The quest for high average grades -- and hence admission to popular university programmes -- means that quite a few students choose courses which are easy to get high grades in.

Learning new language is a struggle for most people, and getting high grades requires a lot of work. Therefore, many students shun away from language courses in favor of courses which requir
... See more
In the Swedish high school system, the students can pick and choose courses fairly freely, including language courses. The quest for high average grades -- and hence admission to popular university programmes -- means that quite a few students choose courses which are easy to get high grades in.

Learning new language is a struggle for most people, and getting high grades requires a lot of work. Therefore, many students shun away from language courses in favor of courses which require less work for the same grade.

And of course they won't listen to our opinions. We're adults, after all...
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Peter Shortall  Identity Verified
Local time: 02:59
Member
French to English
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Start learning earlier May 9, 2011

I've seen countless articles and much soul-searching in The Linguist and other publications about this, but one fundamental point is usually overlooked: until the government decides that foreign languages should be taught to kids from an earlier age, before they lose their natural ability to "absorb" languages, things are unlikely to change much. Besides making it easier for them to learn, I think this could also help to overcome their current attitude of resistance towards languages. At the mom... See more
I've seen countless articles and much soul-searching in The Linguist and other publications about this, but one fundamental point is usually overlooked: until the government decides that foreign languages should be taught to kids from an earlier age, before they lose their natural ability to "absorb" languages, things are unlikely to change much. Besides making it easier for them to learn, I think this could also help to overcome their current attitude of resistance towards languages. At the moment, there seems to be a perception among kids that languages are difficult and boring, mainly because of grammar. The previous government responded to this by doing away with one-on-one oral exams at GCSE level and replacing them with rather vaguely defined "class-based exercises". It remains to be seen what effect this will have, as this change was made only recently, but I suspect it won't help matters. I doubt British kids have a genetic deficiency that prevents them from mastering foreign languages, so surely the problem must lie in how (and when) foreign languages are taught to them. If they could start learning earlier, I'm sure this would help to reduce the difficulty factor, and that in turn may inspire more enthusiasm.

[Edited at 2011-05-09 09:03 GMT]
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Rachel Fell  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 02:59
French to English
+ ...
Grammar May 9, 2011

It would help most British children learn languages more easily if they were taught elementary grammar from a fairly early age. And of course, studying a foreign language at school in England was made no longer compulsory after age 14 a few years ago -

[Edited at 2011-05-09 09:01 GMT]


 

Tomoyuki Kono  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 02:59
Member (2010)
English to Japanese
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I get the point of the article but… May 9, 2011

"Only 5% of the jobs in the European Parliament and Commission are taken by British workers - although the UK contains 12% of the EU's population."

I fail to see the significance of this comparison. How many EU institutions are based in the UK? And compare that to Luxembourg with a population of roughly half a million but with several EU institutions based on its soil.

Poor language skills 'leave Britons out of EU jobs': this headline is just as bad. The interviewee did
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"Only 5% of the jobs in the European Parliament and Commission are taken by British workers - although the UK contains 12% of the EU's population."

I fail to see the significance of this comparison. How many EU institutions are based in the UK? And compare that to Luxembourg with a population of roughly half a million but with several EU institutions based on its soil.

Poor language skills 'leave Britons out of EU jobs': this headline is just as bad. The interviewee didn't quite put it like that.

I share the concerns addressed by the article but it's sad to see another cheap piece of journalism from the Beeb. Is it just me who thinks that the news website's quality of journalism is much lower than that of its broadcasting counterpart? Personally I would stick with trusty old Radio 4.

That was my rant for the day.

Tomo
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Kirsten Bodart  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 03:59
Dutch to English
+ ...
Several problems, in my view May 9, 2011

The first is the comprehensive school system. You do not learn a language properly without knowing why, or you must be a natural genious. As most people are not, everyone benefits from learning grammar in the boring academic way. What is a noun, adjective, direct/indirect object etc. If they learn it in their own language, they will also be able to learn other languuages more easily. If you do not know what a direct object is, how do you teach the Accusative to your class? Or even worse the fact... See more
The first is the comprehensive school system. You do not learn a language properly without knowing why, or you must be a natural genious. As most people are not, everyone benefits from learning grammar in the boring academic way. What is a noun, adjective, direct/indirect object etc. If they learn it in their own language, they will also be able to learn other languuages more easily. If you do not know what a direct object is, how do you teach the Accusative to your class? Or even worse the fact that a copula does not have a direct object? Good luck. If they have learned that in English, you don't need to teach them that the copula has just a Nominative as subject complement.

The second problem is that a second language is not compulsory. Let a teenager choose and what does he do? Do away with the most difficult, of course.

The third is that in Britain, one is never encouraged to speak another language nor understand it. People put up play groups for their toddlers in the strangest languages, but they speak English outside. While that is good integration, there is no need to dub anything and everything on TV. The reason why other countries like Belgium and Luxemburg speak more languages is because they are exposed to them and it seems beneficial to understand them. Therefore, introduce subtitling, and not only on high-brow BBC2.

About the EU-thing: as an applicant you have to know English or French, as they are the administration languages, plus a foreign language; I can well see why most British applicants would not qualify, aside from the lack of interest in the EU, of course. Most citizens of other countries know their mother tongue and then learn English, thus they qualify already. On top of this, for certain promotions you need to know three languages, which courses are available for, but as a Brit you need to catch up dramatically.

Apart from all this, the average British school child could do with some spelling classes, which French would be great for.
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Vitals  Identity Verified
Lithuania
Local time: 04:59
English to Lithuanian
+ ...
The problems of the countries which are "large/strong"... May 9, 2011

Hi, everybody.

Here's some more food for thought:

History shows that citizens of large and/or "economically strong" countries have no motivation to learn foreign languages.

- Why should an average American learn any other language? English is all s/he needs... Moreover, English is very global anyway.

- Why should an average Russian learn any other languages (say, during the Soviet emripe) if s/he can cross half of the world and speak Russia
... See more
Hi, everybody.

Here's some more food for thought:

History shows that citizens of large and/or "economically strong" countries have no motivation to learn foreign languages.

- Why should an average American learn any other language? English is all s/he needs... Moreover, English is very global anyway.

- Why should an average Russian learn any other languages (say, during the Soviet emripe) if s/he can cross half of the world and speak Russian to them all and they will understand?

- Why should an average Briton...with such a fabulous history of the English empire in the past...learn anything else, but English?

A lot of times it is pride because...I could have written "Why should the Chinese..." (but they are more than eager to learn), "Why should the Africans..."

So to me - it is a matter of national mentality more than anything else.

Have a nice day.

VS


[Edited at 2011-05-09 13:03 GMT]
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Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 03:59
Member (2003)
Danish to English
+ ...
Depriving younsters of a lot of privileges IMHO May 9, 2011

I grew up in a multi-lingual community, and my parents were passionate about language, so we thought it was fun in our family.

I was perhaps the one who was keenest out of the four children, but they all enjoyed learning languages and playing with words.

There was not so much talk then about boring grammar, at least at our schools. If you wanted to play the piano, you worked at scales and fingering. You loved sports - you exercised, dribbled, practised batting or aiming
... See more
I grew up in a multi-lingual community, and my parents were passionate about language, so we thought it was fun in our family.

I was perhaps the one who was keenest out of the four children, but they all enjoyed learning languages and playing with words.

There was not so much talk then about boring grammar, at least at our schools. If you wanted to play the piano, you worked at scales and fingering. You loved sports - you exercised, dribbled, practised batting or aiming at the goal or whatever. You learnt your tables and the Periodic table, and grammar was just there. Latin verb tests on Friday, French irregular verbs, German for those who had German... and then you found a good book and enjoyed it!

Of course some subjects were more fun than others, but languages were popular, and we worked at them as a matter of course.

Teenagers are not naturally lazy. They work pasionately at anything they are interested in, and some of us chose languages. OK, music and sport were out as far as I was concerned. (I'm tone deaf and couldn't play 'Chopsticks'; and my physical coordinaton has always been poor...) That did narrow my options a little, but then there was all the more time for my real interests! I was not a lonely geek either - and not even one of the best linguists at school.

So why haven't we passed on this pasion to the younger generations?

It is no use asking here on Proz.com - I'm sure present company do the best they can. But it puzzles me.

Danes have to learn languages - hardly anyone else understands theirs, but there is an "Everyone speaks English" attitude here too, and cuts in educational grants are no help.

Bring back the fun, start early, and get the youngsters INTERESTED before they discover it is hard work. Then when they do, it will also pay off, and at least some of them will be unstoppable!
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Brits have poor language skills

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