Angles on Education
The Use of Foreign Language in the Classroom
Michael Gove October 2011
Every child aged five or over should learn a foreign language, Education Secretary Michael Gove has said. Mr Gove vowed to “pull every lever” to make that happen, including encouraging schools to extend the working day. Mr Gove criticised Britain’s “perverse pride” in not knowing a foreign tongue.
But he also pointed out that some schools in deprived areas were already teaching five year olds Spanish – and that should be possible to replicate nationwide. If we pull all the levers, change teacher training… get schools that have language potential to take over under-performing schools, and we move the curriculum review in the right direction, then we can move towards the goal,” he said.
“The number of pupils sitting a language GCSE plummeted from 444,700 in the summer of 1998 to 273,000 in 2010.
“Learning a foreign language, and the culture that goes with it, is one of the most useful things we can do to broaden the empathy and imaginative sympathy and cultural outlook of children.”
He said learning languages improved people’s brain power. ”Just as some people have taken a perverse pride in not understanding mathematics, so we have taken a perverse pride in the fact that we do not speak foreign languages, and we just need to speak louder in English,” he said. ”It is literally the case that learning languages makes you smarter. The neural networks in the brain strengthen as a result of language learning.”
NUT general secretary Christine Blower said there was an advantage to learning an addition language at an early age. But she added: “Many schools of course are already providing a language learning experience for children at primary level. ”There is a need to ensure this teaching is provided by qualified teachers and is well integrated into the whole primary curriculum.”
Michael Gove June 2012
Learning a language will be compulsory from the age of seven under new proposals by Education Secretary Michael Gove
Following a major overhaul of the national curriculum for schools in England, primary schools could offer lessons in Mandarin, Latin and Greek as well as French, German and Spanish from September 2014.
His proposal for the mandatory learning of a foreign language is fuelled by hopes to reverse the decline in pupils taking foreign languages at GCSE. Ministers believe that equipping children with foreign language skills is essential if they are to be able to compete in a global economy and support economic growth in future.
Officials acknowledge the proposals are likely to be controversial with some people arguing that they are too demanding while others will feel they are not demanding enough.
Mr Gove is said to be keen to promote a public debate on the plans before redrafting them for a formal consultation later in the year.
They follow a report on the future framework of the national curriculum in England drawn up by an expert panel chaired by Tim Oates, the director of research at the Cambridge Assessment exam board.
Language Learning in Scotland
A new report has said children in Scotland should begin learning a second language as soon as they start school. The study, commissioned by the Scottish government, called for a “radical change of approach” in language learning. The proposals put forward would see all children learning a second language from primary one, rather than primary six when most children currently start. The plans are likely to be piloted in a dozen schools across Scotland.
The recommendations – made by the government’s Modern Languages Working Group – also suggest that children should learn a third language no later than P5. To increase its support for language learning, Scotland’s National Centre for Languages (SCILT) is to receive increased funding totalling more than £600,000 in 2012-2013.
The minister for learning, Alasdair Allan said: “The world is changing rapidly and radically and the government has a duty to ensure that Scottish schools prepare young people so they can flourish and succeed in the globalised, multi-lingual world we now live in.”One indisputable aspect of modern life is that more people travel widely for jobs and leisure and we must respond accordingly; we will not be as successful as a country and economy if we remain essentially a mono-lingual society.”
Ministers have signed a voluntary EU agreement to make the changes outlined in the report. However, the full proposals are as yet un-costed and could face hurdles because of the high costs associated with training language teachers.
Lloyd Anderson, director of British Council Scotland, welcomed the report. He said: “Scotland needs globalised citizens who can go out confidently on the world stage and win business to grow Scotland’s exports. ”Language learning is a vital part of creating that outward-looking mindset.”