Tuesday 20 March 2012

Languages for All-A worthwhile pursuit?

After the launch of the ebac, the debate about whether studying a language is only of benefit to a worthy elite resurfaced. Despite the UK having less and less home-grown linguists after languages were made optional in 2004, everybody seems to have an idea about the impact of learning a foreign language. From the common myth that learning a foreign language can affect a child's ability to master English to the strong opinion that it “won’t be needed” for certain students, a lot of misconceptions are going around and taking hold.
Languages can not only support the development of high-level literacy skills, but also provide low attainers with an opportunity to feel positive about learning again. The benefits are for everyone, a little bit of language can take you far…
Equal footing and Confidence boost
Some learners already feel like failures by the time they reach secondary school. All the signs are there: the number or letter of the set they are in, the presence of extra adults in the room or the size of their group. With the correct support, learning a foreign language can provide these learners with great enjoyment and give them the opportunity to achieve a level comparable to their peers, at least in the first couple of years of study.
Transferring skills learnt somewhere else
EAL learners are sometimes not offered the opportunity to learn a foreign language as the acquisition of English is a priority for them. However, learning a foreign language could also enable them to consolidate their English and boost their confidence in using English orally. In addition, these students are more likely to do well as they have already had the experience of learning English as a new language. They also tend to be less self-conscious about copying unfamiliar sounds and will have the experience of producing a wider range of sounds. 
Developing high level linguistic skills supporting mother tongue development
Learning a foreign language deepens the knowledge of grammar in the students' first and second language and will hellp them avoid common mistakes in English such as the difference between it's and its.  The awareness of common roots and origin of words can also help develop vocabulary in both languages.
Better understanding of tenses and use of connectives will also enhance students' performance in English in general.
Opportunities to study in prestigious university and enhance job prospects
The Russell group of Universities officially named languages at GCSE level as a “facilitating” subject held in high regard by universities when selecting candidates for their most popular courses. A copy of the booklet looking at the implications of choosing different subjects can be found here.
However, a GCSE in modern foreign languages is not the only qualification that can enhance students' job prospects. A practical knowledge of the language can be useful for specific jobs and alternative qualifications like Asset Languages or NVQs allow more flexibility with their accreditation in separate skills.
Chance to open up your horizons
Some students may not get many opportunities to go far beyond their town. Learning a language and about a different culture makes them aware of what else might be out there. In some way, it is a great social leveller and this is why I believe all children should have access to learning a language.


AJH said...

Isabelle, I am in complete agreement with you. I taught for 13 years in an inner London comprehensive school. We diversified and made languages compulsory up to 16, as required, and we touched many kids' lives. As clearly seen in the last trends document, studying languages is rapidly becoming a privilege for the middle classes. This is heartbreaking and wrong.

Isabelle Jones said...

Thank you for your comment Anneli. I feel that the government needs to find an incentive for schools to adopt languages as a core subject assesed with a range of recognised and accesible qualifications for students of all abilities. Not holding my breath here...