I recently re-tweeted a link from a twitter contact urging people to sign the petition to reinstate the compulsary teaching of modern foreign languages up to the age of 16 and withing moments I received a message from another contact asking me why I believe this, which has led to this blog post.
Firstly, let me offer the quote directly from the petition’s page: “The government dropped the requirement to teach foreign languages to all children up to the age of 16 in 2002. As a result there has been a dramatic fall in pupils taking these subjects. This leads to a catastrophic loss of international understanding, cultural enjoyment and business competitiveness. We believe that all school students deserve to gain an understanding of the world outside these shores and a chance to communicate with others. In addition we believe this will improve students’ confidence, increase tolerance and enable more students to gain access to international jobs. This will help to enable young people to improve their lives by introducing them to the joys of other cultures.”
I wholely support the above statement as I truely believe that learning a language gives pupils the opportunity to improve their lives by developing their level of self-awareness and their understanding of others, whilst giving them what could be considered a life-changing skill. It certainly was for me. Most passionate teachers are not just passionate about teaching, but they are also passionate about their subject. On a personal level, Spanish is my passion, it is my fire, it is my creativity. Without Spanish my life would have been completely different and I would certainly have never become a teacher. In fact, my degree is in Accounting & Finance & Spanish. Take out the language and where would I be? Bored? In an office? With it, I am in an ever-changing environment that challenges me, stretches me and enthuses me everyday, whilst still allowing me to carry on the with the subject that I continued with to university level simply because I enjoyed it.
I recognise that not everyone will wish to continue with a language to A Level or beyond, however the skills that language learning produce in a human being a boundless. One could argue that it is one of the first things we learn to do in our lives: communicate. Language acquisition in a child is a remarkable thing to see develop, and it is also remarkable to see this development in the languages learned later in life. One of my pedagogical beliefs is to use and encourage the use of target language as much as possible in the classroom, in an attempt to simulate the language acquisition that every person goes through in their life. Learning a second language as a child or young teenager can improve development and awareness of words. Learning a language, such as Spanish, can be such a useful experience for pupils who struggle with the complex and often conflicting rules of spelling and pronunciation in English, and through learning this second language they become more aware of the structure of their own language, thereby offering support to difficulties encountered in English or literacy.
Having the opportunity to learn a language to the age of 16 is not about becoming fluent – after all, we do not expect mathematicians or physicists to be able to do complex equations or experiements to this age. Learning a language to the age of 16 is about awareness. Awareness of one’s own culture and other’s. Awareness of the country in which we live and the diversity it offers, combined with awareness of the wider world. Awareness of language and words combined with awareness of communication. The world that we live in today is becoming smaller and smaller as advances in technology and transport shorten the bridges to cross in order to reach different places. Not only do we need to be able to communicate effectively in this wider world (and who is to say that this should be done in English?) but we also need to be aware of the cultural differences that each place has to offer. Learning a language to GCSE level will offer pupils an insight into these cultural differences – they can learn about the different ways that Christmas can be celebrated, they can find out more about religion and the impact it has on society, or they can gain pleasure from watching a film or listening to music in a foreign language.
In the global community that we are building, knowing another language can open so many doors both socially and professionally. The nature of the global changes taking place means that in order for Britain to continue to be a ‘respected’ member of this community we need people to represent us. Do we really wish to be represented as lager swilling hooligans at football matches?
If you need any further reasons as to why language learning can be so important, then look at this excellent previous entry to the LAFTA competition: