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Languages do not seem to be a popular choice of course at university nowadays (U.K.)

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Ty Kendall  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 13:10
Hebrew to English
Stating the bleedin' obvious... Jan 16, 2013

So, languages are not a popular course at British universities these days? Who knew? :-/ I wondered why language departments up and down the country were closing, I thought it was because they has so many applicants they just couldn't handle the volume!

On a serious note, only so much of this can be blamed on the "Anglophone" arrogant attitude to other languages (before there's a chorus of "The British don't value languages...").

From my own experience a lot of it is down to the education system (the state system anyway). And I hate to be the harbinger of doom but I fear that this won't change as long as Michael Gove has got his incompetent hands on the reins.

We have a secondary school system where languages are viewed as a more difficult option and you are able to drop them in year 9 (age 13-14). I mean, why risk a "D" in German when you might get an "A" in General Studies?

This automatically depletes the pool of potential language students going on to take languages at A-Level before you even get to university.

And the antics that I know happen at A-Level (my own German class was just cancelled after the first year - because I was the only student) probably don't help either - also the massive abyss in difficulty between GCSE and A-Level is also something that needs to be addressed (maybe it has since my day but it was pretty immense when I was at college).

Basically, we have an education system which is quite hostile to languages, in combination with socio-cultural aspects you have a recipe for disaster as far as languages at university are concerned.

P.S. I detected a rather smug attitude from the guy at Bristol University (well our language student numbers aren't down, so who cares if the rest of the country goes down the pan?).


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Nikki Scott-Despaigne  Identity Verified
Local time: 14:10
French to English
1980s Jan 17, 2013

I sat my O-levels in 1978 and my A-levels in 1980. My brother had sat his 10 years earlier. At both times, the big step to climb was in the different approach, whatever the subject. You had to go from a fairly large amount of talk and chalk at O-level, where both information and method were presented, to an approach where you suddenly had small groups, lecture-type classes, bibliographies and titles set. The 6th form was all about acquiring autonomy ; taking the ball and running with it. We were well-prepared for college/university where it was here's the lecture, here's the biblio, here's the subject, see you in the tutorial. At college we had lectures (25-75 students depending on the subject), seminars (12 students) and tutorials (one-to-one or maybe in twos).

I don't know how things work in the UK now. I do know how they work in France. The big step in France comes after the baccalauréat and upon the move to university level.

[Edited at 2013-01-17 06:40 GMT]


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Phil Hand  Identity Verified
China
Local time: 21:10
Chinese to English
Lumping all "languages" together doesn't help Jan 17, 2013

The problem is that "language" degrees can be one of two completely different things.

If the degree is in French, Spanish or German, then it's a literature course. If you've passed an A-level in those languages, then you're already pretty proficient. Sure, you get better over the course of your degree, but you can already read a book by the time you get to university, and that's what you do: read lots of books. (And when you go for your year abroad, you often take literature classes.)

If the degree is in something more exotic, you probably haven't reached that level of competence while at school, so a large part of your degree is actually about learning the language. It's a completely different type of thing.


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Ty Kendall  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 13:10
Hebrew to English
Totally Agree Jan 17, 2013

Phil Hand wrote:

The problem is that "language" degrees can be one of two completely different things.

If the degree is in French, Spanish or German, then it's a literature course. If you've passed an A-level in those languages, then you're already pretty proficient. Sure, you get better over the course of your degree, but you can already read a book by the time you get to university, and that's what you do: read lots of books. (And when you go for your year abroad, you often take literature classes.)

If the degree is in something more exotic, you probably haven't reached that level of competence while at school, so a large part of your degree is actually about learning the language. It's a completely different type of thing.


It's the main reason I chose not to do a degree in pure "Hebrew" in the UK. Despite it being a more "exotic" language, I wasn't able to find a course which wasn't almost all pure literature and/or culture with a smidgen of language thrown in to pay lip service (and to justify the linguistic sounding titles of the degrees).

If people think there is a poverty of "language" degrees in the UK, then they'd be floored if that actually looked at the number of "real" language degrees.

[Edited at 2013-01-17 12:48 GMT]


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LilianNekipelov  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 08:10
Russian to English
+ ...
How do the translation degrees work in the UK, these days? Jan 17, 2013

What level of the target language the student wants to use for the purpose of his studies, and later work, is required? Do they actually teach all the different languages, or are the candidates supposed to be completely fluent in the languages that have chosen, and they just study the theory of translation, and use it in practical exercises. It takes really a lot of time and effort to learn a language to the level at which one would be able to successfully translate from it, not to even say anything about translating into it.

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Ty Kendall  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 13:10
Hebrew to English
It's not really about QUALITY, it's about QUANTITY Jan 17, 2013

LilianBoland wrote:

What level of the target language the student wants to use for the purpose of his studies, and later work, is required? Do they actually teach all the different languages, or are the candidates supposed to be completely fluent in the languages that have chosen, and they just study the theory of translation, and use it in practical exercises. It takes really a lot of time and effort to learn a language to the level at which one would be able to successfully translate from it, not to even say anything about translating into it.


Where languages are taught, they tend to be taught very well, to a very high level/standard. The problem is one of quantity, they simply aren't taught enough (to enough people).

In addition, it's not really about "translation" degrees either. There's plenty of them. It's about "pure" language degrees (which aren't usually geared towards translation per se, although many do have translation modules).

[Edited at 2013-01-17 12:45 GMT]


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LilianNekipelov  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 08:10
Russian to English
+ ...
Thank you, Ty. I have heard they don't have too many students Jan 17, 2013

in certain language departments. Some rare languages have just one or two programs in the entire UK, each about 5-7 students. Does that sound about right? I am sure the quality of teaching at most UK universities is very high -- the problem is that studying a language requires time, and you cannot really teach anyone a language -- the students have to do most of the work themselves, based on some valuable instructions. I thought the translation programs required fluency in another language, do they in fact? That would make a lot of sense, because it is much easier to teach someone how to translate once they already know the languages really well.

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Ty Kendall  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 13:10
Hebrew to English
Not just the rare languages, unfortunately. Jan 17, 2013

LilianBoland wrote:
Some rare languages have just one or two programs in the entire UK, each about 5-7 students. Does that sound about right?


For some really rare languages yes. It wouldn't really be feasible to cater to all languages equally when there simply isn't the demand for Zulu or Sioux. The problem we have is that student numbers for the big players: German, French and Spanish are starting to resemble the numbers you might expect for Zulu and Sioux.

My old university's German department went the way of the dinosaurs a long time ago, Spanish followed it the year after I left and I suspect the French department won't be far behind them.

I thought the translation programs required fluency in another language, do they in fact?


All the ones I've seen, yes.


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Balasubramaniam L.  Identity Verified
India
Local time: 18:40
Member (2006)
English to Hindi
+ ...
Is the English language to blame for this? Jan 17, 2013

May be this is because there is a less felt need for language learning nowadays in Britain. The empire is long since gone but the empire of the English language is ever expanding, and with the help of English you can get most business-related work done, so why bother to learn exotic languages? This disappearance of the economic incentive could be the key factor behind the decline of language learning in the UK.

Recently (could be several years ago), there was a news item in the papers here (India) about the Sanskrit department of one of the top education centres there (was it Oxford? not sure) has been closed down due to lack of funds.

Also BBC radio has recently shut down its Hindi programmes, again due to lack of funds. BBC Hindi was immensely popular in India and some of its Hindi commentators had cult status.

Probably these are indicators of what is to come as a result of the decline in interest in languages. But I suppose, one can't expect anything else from an ageing society, with an economy in decline, which would tend to concentrate on what is essential.

[2013-01-17 13:37 GMT पर संपादन हुआ]


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Ty Kendall  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 13:10
Hebrew to English
3 o'clock? Must be Britain-bashing time... Jan 17, 2013

Balasubramaniam L. wrote:
This disappearance of the economic incentive could be the key factor behind the decline of language learning in the UK.


You have it the wrong way round, the economic incentive to learn languages wasn't really there "in the days of the empire". However, it most certainly is there today. Hence the constant (and rather crass) 'marketing' of the learning of Mandarin with the vague 'promise' of economic gain.

Recently (could be several years ago), there was a news item in the papers here (India) about the Sanskrit department of one of the top education centres there (was it Oxford? not sure) has been closed down due to lack of funds.


Well which came first - the chicken or the egg? Universities are businesses, student numbers equals money. Fewer students, less money (or less money that they are willing to allocate to language departments anyway for fear of a lack of a 'return' on the investment).

Probably these are indicators of what is to come as a result of the decline in interest in languages. But I suppose, one can't expect anything else from an ageing society, with an economy in decline, which would tend to concentrate on what is essential


Wow, your disdain for Britain is palatable (in this and other posts)! However, I really don't think those issues have much relevance to a fall in language students in our universities. Many economies are in decline at the moment (Hint: that's why it's called a GLOBAL recession), yet it doesn't affect the language student numbers of other countries.


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Tatty  Identity Verified
Local time: 14:10
Spanish to English
+ ...
Probably pointless anyway Jan 17, 2013

I think that in the past when studying at Uni was free, education for education's sake was OK. But I believe that this is no longer the case. Nowadays it is a good idea to choose a degree that you can get a job at the end of. Firstly you'll need a well-paying job to pay off your student loans and later to pay off your mortgage.

In the light of this new situation, I think that languages can only aspire to be a complement to a more serious path of studies. What's more, nowadays, it is much easier to learn foreign languages, interactive textbooks for instance are great.


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Daniel Bird  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 13:10
German to English
A personal ramble Jan 17, 2013

There are some paradoxes or at least contradictions here. I tend to believe that in the west we will have to make more of our wealth from knowledge-based industries and that university education is likely to become more vocational in nature. So it’s arguable that the people in the best position to use their knowledge of English should be thinking about how to make the most of this natural resource.
University English departments are still in good health I believe.
There are language services that were undreamt of twenty years ago; no doubt there will be more that we can’t predict. As an example, there are talented native speaking pastiche writers turning out English language copy for websites throughout the world who subtly tweak and corrupt the language to make it acceptable for local consumption while giving the website owners the perceived cachet of an English language presence.
University may or may not be the best place to learn a language; one way to make languages more relevant to university study could be if e.g. history departments taught certain modules in other languages. Teachers and profs might baulk at having to expand expertise beyond their narrow language speciality but many people in many walks of life are faced with the choice of learning new skills or being unable to pay the rent.
So I think university language learning will have to change.
Perhaps the possibilities beyond the traditional language-related careers are not well-enough sketched out to school leavers and others considering their uni options and possible future careers, leaving them with the view that they are not worth taking up. As the other side of that coin consider also that perhaps the people who leave school with decent language capability are wise enough to realise that the language should be a springboard to other things rather than an end in itself. Looking back at my own life, I made the right choices at school but did not join up the dots so to speak – had I used my language ability as a springboard to pursue engineering in Germany, rather than first studying the language at a home university, I reckon I would have been more successful over the long run.
Cheers
DB


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Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 14:10
Member (2003)
Danish to English
+ ...
I do so sympathise with the young people ... Jan 17, 2013

Even after growing up in India with focus on the need to learn languages, I wanted a real job, not just 'doing something with languages', and I would rather starve than teach. I imagined languages was either translating literature that no one would read, or guiding tourists about. Possibly diplomacy, but I'm no diplomat!!!

We were well taught at my schools, both private and the local Grammar, in the 1960s, and I was fluent in French and able to do German A-level from scratch, skipping O level, in about fifteen months. By then I was reading modern novels and Frankfurter Allgemeine.

However, I had no idea of the possibilities with languages, and I wanted to read medicine, which was out of the question.

I dropped out of one of those literary courses with loads of Chaucer, Racine and Goethe, Milton and Molière, Henry Fielding... I could indeed read Balzac and André Gide, Bertolt Brecht, Heinrich Böll and Günther Grass, but what was I going to do with them at the end?

It was not until I came to Denmark and found that languages are useful, for instance in the pharmaceutical industry, that I realised I had actually won the big prize in the lottery with the combination of native English and a good ear for languages.

I don't know how to motivate young people, and especially convince the politicians and the people with the funding, which is quite as important.
But it needs to be done.

Above all, people who only speak one language miss out on a lot. It must be like seeing the world in black and white - each language adds an extra dimension.

Children should be taught a language or two while they are still young enough to think it is fun, and then they would not mind when it called for serious effort later on.
Nobody works harder than really motivated teenagers, but few can resist more stubbornly either, if they decide something is a waste of time!

I hope the tide turns somehow!


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clairemcn
United Kingdom
Local time: 13:10
Member (2013)
French to English
+ ...
Language degrees not that useful Jan 17, 2013

Tatty wrote:

I think that in the past when studying at Uni was free, education for education's sake was OK. But I believe that this is no longer the case. Nowadays it is a good idea to choose a degree that you can get a job at the end of. Firstly you'll need a well-paying job to pay off your student loans and later to pay off your mortgage.

In the light of this new situation, I think that languages can only aspire to be a complement to a more serious path of studies. What's more, nowadays, it is much easier to learn foreign languages, interactive textbooks for instance are great.



I agree with this. I did study languages (meaning the typical literature degree with only an hour a week of 'language' study) and I regret it now. I always knew that I loved languages, but reading novel after novel just wasn't my thing and didn't really prepare me for anything at all. If I could turn back the clock, I'd study Business, Marketing or some other 'practical' degree with languages on the side.


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Neil Coffey  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 13:10
French to English
+ ...
Universities need to take their share of the blame... Jan 18, 2013

We have an increasingly global society and increasingly global businesses relying on language technologies and the need to bridge gaps between cultures, and yet the most compelling reason that recruiters can come up with for recruiting language specialists is that they're basically "lovely, bubbly people" (in other words, by implication, the actual content of their learning and abilities is basically bollocks). University course designers also need to take a hard look at why this might be the case...

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