10 January 2020 (City AM)
The UK has always lagged behind its European neighbours in foreign language learning, and the vote this week to eradicate the Erasmus scheme will only slow that adoption further.
For many, Erasmus was an opportunity to live and learn a new culture and language, free from class and income boundaries. The programme gave the UK’s youth an international edge. But now that the government has denied university students this exchange scheme, following Wednesday’s Brexit votes, it runs a serious risk of making British students more insular, constricted, and less culturally open.
Concerns about this decision don’t just begin and end with the loss of cultural and social benefits for students — it will inevitably affect the UK’s future workforce and bottom line.
In the midst of the Brexit process, where we have already seen a reduction in net migration since the referendum, how will British industries fair without this source of diversity in learning and incoming talent?
This decision is arguably the worst one made for the British education system since 2004, when Tony Blair’s Labour government chose to scrap compulsory foreign language learning at the GCSE level, which led to a severe drop in the number of UK pupils taking subjects such as French and German. In fact, there has been a huge 63 per cent fall in GCSE entries for French and a 67 per cent for German since 2002.
The government is setting a dangerous precedent. It sends the message to young Brits that foreign language skills aren’t important, and that English is the language of the world.
It isn’t. In fact, only 20 per cent of the world’s population speaks English — this includes both native and second language speakers.
In 2013, the now-dissolved Department of Business, Innovation and Skills revealed that the UK’s language skills deficit could be costing the economy up to £48bn each year. So it is concerning that this Brexit-driven decision has gone ahead without a regard for its implications.
21 November 2019 (TES)
Despite the privilege of living in a multilingual country, the UK's monolingual English risk being left behind, writes Dr Heather Martin.
"If we can just get Brexit done", some seem to think, "we won’t have to worry about learning all those other languages!" English, that great linguistic success story, will be sufficient unto itself.
It’s a terrible delusion. All it would do is make the learning harder.
It’s not as though language is a take-it-or-leave-it option in real life. Nor should it be in schools.
There was a time when we didn’t have language at all. We didn’t have much of anything back then. It was touch and go whether we would win out over our Neanderthal rivals, who by all anthropological accounts were tougher than us and better at tool-making.
But for some reason we were the ones to develop syntactical language, which turned out to be the best tool of all. Why? Because we could coordinate and cooperate with others. We could discuss, theorise, speculate, and line up plans B and C in case plan A fell through.
Later, when writing came along, we could count our crops and keep records and amass evidence. We were ahead of the game because we could speak each other’s language. The choices we made – what we did with that ability to plot and plan and scheme – is another story.
Needless to say it wasn’t English. Like homo sapiens, modern English as we know it, dating from the late 17th century, is just a blip on the evolutionary calendar. A slightly larger and more luminous blip if you go back as far as Early Modern and Shakespeare.
Such ambiguous progress as we have made – hey, we put a man on the moon! – is largely down to our hard-wired language-learning ability, our readiness to meet each other half way, to transition from Latin to Celtic to Anglo-Saxon, Anglo-Norman and beyond, to respond, reflect and adapt.
Which is the pragmatic philosophy behind the pop-up museum of languages that in late October, a ray of light in the wintry shadow of Brexit, popped up in a shopping centre in Cambridge – the first stop on an inaugural tour of Belfast, Edinburgh, Nottingham and London (March 2020).
The Cambridge University brains behind this innovative concept seek to address anyone from 4 to 84, but on the half-term day I was there the average age was around 8. Which seems about right for the ideal target audience. We can learn a new language at any time. It’s never too late to open our minds. But no doubt the sooner the better.
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16 November 2019 (iNews)
As a nation, we are not known for our proficiency in foreign languages. The stereotype of the Brit abroad, repeating English slowly and loudly to the locals, has more than a grain of truth.
In England, language study has declined so much that the exam regulator, Ofqual, recently decided to lower grade boundaries in GCSE French and German to encourage teenagers to take them.
Can anything be done about our struggles? Or should we lighten up about it? A former Downing Street education expert has told i that seriously improving our language ability is not a high-enough priority to justify the vast expense involved.
In Britain, 34.6 per cent of people aged between 25 and 64 report that they know one or more foreign language, compared with an EU average of 64.8 per cent.
GCSE and A-level language entries in England, Wales and Northern Ireland have been declining since the turn of the century, although a rise in Spanish entries provides a shred of comfort.
In Scotland, language entries at National 4 and 5 level have dropped by about a fifth since 2014.
This has been accompanied by the quiet death of the foreign exchange, suffocated in part by exaggerated safety concerns. A survey by the British Council five years ago found that just four in 10 schools run trips involving a stay with a host family. Martha de Monclin, a British expat living in France, is often asked whether she knows British families who are happy to be involved in exchanges, but in seven years has found only one.
Where they do happen, pupils just go sightseeing and stay in hotels, she says. “With mobile phones, they are constantly connected to their friends and family at home. This makes it incredibly difficult to learn a language.”
6 November 2019 (The Telegraph)
Your Year 9 French teacher was right: learning a language can open a lot of doors. Not only will your fluency allow you to travel to distant corners of the globe, but having a degree in a language can make you highly employable.
Mastering a language has always been impressive to employers: it shows tenacity and commitment, but can also come in handy if they work with overseas clients.
Now, language skills are more sought after than ever, given the potential impact of Brexit on British industry, according to the CBI/Pearson Education and Skills Report 2018. “The need for languages has been heightened by the UK’s departure from the European Union,” the report states.
The British Council has also stressed the need for young people to learn a foreign language in order for Britain to become a “truly global nation”. In their most recent Languages for the Future report in 2017, the British Council listed the following as the most important languages for the UK’s prosperity: Spanish, Mandarin, French, Arabic, German, Italian, Dutch, Portuguese, Japanese and Russian.
Even though multilingualism is needed for the UK’s prosperity, just 1 in 3 Britons can hold a conversation in a foreign language, according to the report from the British Council.
So, those who can speak another language are more needed than ever - as is clear from the 2018 CBI/Pearson Education and Skills Report, which surveyed almost 500 British employers and calculated which languages are most desirable to them. The following are the results from that report and, thus, the best languages to study for graduate employment.
18 October 2019 (Life Spectator)
Most of my friends are moderate Remainers. There’s the odd fanatic, the sort who go on marches demanding a People’s Vote. What I can’t understand is why none of them can speak French, German, or indeed any European language.
They go on holiday to Europe, but only to those parts where they won’t have to speak the lingo because fortunately Johnny Foreigner has had the good sense to learn English.
Something else that confuses me is the belief, most pungently articulated by David Aaronovitch, that Brexit will be reversed in a few years because those stuck-in-the-past Gammons will shuffle off this mortal coil to be replaced in the electorate by a shiny new Briton: young, cosmopolitan and forward-looking, who believe the sun shines out of the Brussels’ class. In which case, why are fewer school children than ever bothering to learn a foreign language?
According to a report in the BBC this year, the learning of foreign languages is at its lowest level in UK secondary schools since the turn of the millennium. Since 2013 there has been a decline of between 30 to 50 per cent in the numbers taking GCSE language courses with German and French suffering most. That’s in England; in Northern Ireland the drop in pupils learning modern languages at GSCE is 40% while in Scotland there has been a 19% decline since 2014. And there was me thinking those two countries couldn’t get enough of all things European.
Furthermore, in March this year the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Modern Languages released a report stating that since 2000 more than fifty UK universities have cut language courses, or done away with departments entirely.
I blame the parents. In 2013 a report revealed that only a quarter of British adults were capable of holding even a basic conversation in a language other than English; of those, French was the most common, followed by German.
Making languages your business
18 October 2019 (SCILT)
The newly refurbished Ramshorn building at the University of Strathclyde played host to an important dialogue between the worlds of business and education recently. On 2 October, thirty-eight representatives from a range of industry sectors met with delegates from schools, further and higher education with the aim of improving the supply of language skills from education to the workplace and better matching the needs of the labour market. Sectors represented included tourism, engineering, manufacturing and law.
Delegates were welcomed to “Make languages your business” by Professor Sir Jim McDonald, Principal of the University of Strathclyde, who noted that it was now “imperative” that graduates are equipped with the necessary skills, in particular the ability to speak other languages, to operate on a global stage. The keynote speech was delivered by Ivan McKee MSP, Scottish Government Minister for Trade, Investment and Innovation.
Mr McKee said: “Learning other languages facilitates cultural awareness and helps us make connections with people from around the world – skills that are crucial in the 21st century.
“If Scotland is to continue to compete on the world stage, we need our young people to be open to new technologies, to people and cultures from around the world and crucially to the changing ways of doing business. It is essential that we inspire children and young people to learn other languages and, through doing so, provide them with the knowledge and skills they need to help them take full advantage of the opportunities in our fast-changing world.”
In his plenary speech, Charandeep Singh, Deputy Chief Executive of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, made reference to Scotland’s wealth of linguistic diversity and outlined the importance of languages to companies and organisations looking to operate internationally.
The central part of the event consisted of a Q&A session, chaired by John Crawford of Scottish Development International. Panellists provided insights into the importance of language and intercultural skills in their careers, and how the capacity to engage with clients in their native languages has benefited their organisations.
“Make languages your business” was organised by SCILT, Scotland’s National Centre for Languages based at the University of Strathclyde. It is the culmination of the first phase of a three-year Erasmus+ project, “Generation Global”. At the event, SCILT launched an online toolkit to help Scottish businesses to grow their international markets and to develop the language and intercultural skills of their staff.
Fhiona Mackay, Director of SCILT said: “Erasmus+ funding has enabled SCILT to collaborate with its counterpart agencies in Norway and Denmark so that the Generation Global project could be realised. Each of the three countries working together can make a real difference to young people in Scotland and the other partner countries. Schools by themselves cannot be given sole responsibility for creating an appetite for language learning. It is when schools, universities and the world of industry and business come together that we can truly create a climate in which all languages are celebrated and language learning can flourish.”
The project is coordinated by SCILT on behalf of the Scottish Government Wider Engagement Network.
More information on Generation Global.
Access the Toolkit.
Meaningful employer engagement and the provision of relevant careers advice are key recommendations of Scotland’s Youth Employment Strategy, “Developing the young workforce”.
This collaboration between education and businesses supports Scotland’s International Policy to equip young people with communication and employability skills that they will need in our increasingly globalised society and economy.
The panellists for the Q&A session were Dr Jonathan Downie (Integrity Languages), Andrew Gillespie (ACE Aquatec), Mark Pentleton (Radio Lingua) and Paul Sheerin (Scottish Engineering).
13 September 2019 (The Economist)
Unemployed Londoners hoping to work for Gucci, an Italian fashion retailer, may be surprised by the skills required. As well as knowledge of luxury products, including accessories and leather goods, and industry trends, candidates to be a “brand ambassador” at the outlet in Harrods need something extra. Because the posh department store’s customers include rich visitors from the Gulf, you must also speak Arabic.
Foreign languages remain a coveted skill in Britain, according to an analysis of data from Indeed, a recruitment website. Of the millions of jobs in Britain listed there, around one in 200 requires require foreign languages. German and French, the most desirable languages, feature in about 115 out of every 100,000 postings, over twice as often as Chinese, Italian or Spanish. Twenty-nine in 100,000 listings require Dutch; 20 call for Japanese, Polish or Russian. Despite the rise of translation software, people prefer to be served by fellow humans who can speak their mother tongue.
22 August 2019 (The Notification)
Everyone speaks English, don’t they? Isn’t it the third most common mother tongue and most frequently-learnt second language in the world, and anyway isn’t it the de facto international language of business, tourism, music and academia? And how are a Swede and Slovak meant to communicate otherwise, without resorting to mime or the questionable suggestions of Google Translate?
Comparing broad Glaswegian, Aussie drawl and Canadian lilt shows us the incredible diversity and geographical spread of our language, arguably the most useful mother tongue on the planet. However, the Anglophone phenomenon comes with its own bear traps. 61% of British people can’t speak a single other language. We thus receive the dubious award for the most monolingual country in Europe.
There’s something very British about the way we consistently overestimate the importance of our own language (only 38% of EU citizens outside the UK and Ireland know enough English to have a conversation, and 6 of the world’s 7.5 billion people speak no English at all) and find excuses not to learn anyone else’s.
We have an unfortunate tendency to reduce language to its functional value of bare bones communication: if person A from country B learns our word for C, we’re good. We persistently neglect that language is also intrinsically tied up with culture, identity and personality.
“A different language is a different vision of life”, quipped the Italian film director Federico Fellini. Speaking only the language handed down to us by our parents means we miss a whole dimension of the human experience, and the pleasure of authentically discovering another layer of the cultural richness of our world.
13 August 2019 (BBC)
The Scottish and Welsh governments have expressed fears over the future of the Erasmus student exchange programme in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
Both administrations have jointly written to the UK education secretary to express their concerns.
The EU programme helps students study in other countries.
The UK government has guaranteed payments for successful applicants and said it is "exploring participation" in a successor scheme.
Erasmus is an EU-funded programme which enables students to either study part of their degree or undertake a work placement abroad.
About 53% of UK university students who learn abroad do so through the initiative.
Some countries which are not in the EU - including Iceland, Norway and Serbia - also take part.
The letter is signed by the Scottish higher education minister, Richard Lochhead, and the Welsh education minister, Kirsty Williams.
Both devolved administrations are opposed to a hard Brexit but if the UK leaves the EU without a deal, they would like participation in Erasmus to continue.
The letter argues that leaving the EU without a deal or an arrangement covering the scheme will result in universities, colleges, and schools being ineligible to submit applications to participate in the final year of the current Erasmus+ programme in 2020.
It says: "This will be a significant loss to both our education sectors.
"Between 2014 and 2018, Erasmus+ has enabled an estimate of over 10,000 students and staff in Wales to undertake mobility visits to benefit their learning and career development.
"In Scotland, proportionally more students take part in Erasmus+ than from any other country in the UK."
It calls for an urgent meeting of education ministers to discuss the steps being taken towards ensuring that a hard Brexit does not lead to a loss of provision and opportunities for universities, colleges and schools.
31 July 2019 (The Guardian)
Just after the first world war, the UK produced its most comprehensive review of languages provision, the Leathes report. In the Brexit era we’re now faced yet again with different ideological, cultural and economic battles that have us examining our languages capacity, and discovering it falls well short of what is required.
After Brexit we will need a strong language base for trade, international relations and soft power. Yet instead of a growth in languages, we’re experiencing steep decline: the number of modern languages undergraduates fell by 54% between 2008–9 and 2017–18. With fewer students applying, at least 10 modern languages departments have closed in the last decade (the University of Hull is the most recent casualty), and many others have shrunk in size or reduced their range of languages. By one estimate, the number of German units has halved from more than 80 in 2002 to fewer than 40 today.
Second, if Brexit and the debate over the Irish backstop have taught us anything, it is that we need subject specialists with language skills – lawyers, economists, geographers, engineers, and business graduates with the language skills to understand, negotiate, and argue the details.
Third, we urgently need more language graduates with at least two languages to degree level to teach in schools and rebuild and sustain primary and secondary languages. At present we risk most state schools offering pupils only one language to GCSE and many offering none at all to A-level, in a way that would never be tolerated for the sciences.
To win back students, a new approach is needed.
6 November 2018 (The Herald)
The number of students from Scotland learning a modern language at university has fallen by more than 500 in the past five years.
New figures show 3,400 students chose languages at a Scottish university in 2016/17 compared to nearly 4,000 in 2012/13.
The decline, which shows numbers are falling for German, French, Russian and Spanish, has sparked fears Scotland will become increasingly isolated in the world, particularly following Brexit.
This summer, opposition politicians called on the Scottish Government to launch an inquiry into the decline in the number of pupils studying modern languages at school.
The drop has been blamed partly on curriculum reforms which mean pupils experience a broader education in the first three years of secondary.
That means exam subjects are chosen a year later than previously with a shorter time to prepare - resulting in some subjects getting squeezed out.
Professor Vicente Perez de Leon, Head of the School of Modern Languages at Glasgow University, said the school squeeze was hitting university recruitment.
And he argued language learning at school should be protected and resourced to ensure numbers increase.
“Languages are something that can open possibilities for employment abroad or having better jobs here,” he said.
“They can open minds and allow students to make connections with new people, new cultures and new literature. It should be a priority within the curriculum.”
Dr Dan Tierney, an independent languages expert, said the decline was also fuelled by the closure of some university departments.
Posted in: Primary
, Senior Phase
, All Languages
, Language Learning - Benefits
, Language Learning - Decline
, Language Teaching
31 October 2018 (The Indepedent)
Jeremy Hunt will vow to recruit 1,000 more diplomatic staff and boost their language skills, as he fights warnings that Brexit will weaken Britain’s international clout.
In a major speech, the foreign secretary will promise “the biggest expansion of Britain’s diplomatic network for a generation”, opening new embassies in Africa and South East Asia.
There will also be a doubling of diplomats who speak the local language to 1,000, Mr Hunt will say – and an increase in the number of languages the Foreign Office teaches, from 50 to 70.
24 October 2018 (The Scotsman)
A new study suggests more pupils could learn Chinese and Urdu as part of a shake up in learning foreign languages.
The independent think tank, Reform Scotland, has published a report calling for a fresh approach to be taken towards the education of languages in Scottish schools.
The report indicates a practical model of learning should be introduced to help adapt to changing demand.
The number of Scottish Qualification Authority (SQA) entries in “traditionally taught” languages has decreased over the last 20 years, with entries for higher grade French down by 18.2% and entries for German at the same level reduced by 58.4%.
In contrast, entries for higher Spanish exams increased by 219.8% increased over the same period, while Chinese entries have increased by 17.8% in the past two years.
Reform Scotland argue this highlights a changing global economy, with Asia seen as a growing economic market.
The report also calls for an end to distinctions between “community” and “modern” languages so that learning reflects the increasing number of communities in Scotland speaking languages such as Polish, Arabic and Urdu.
Reform Scotland Director Chris Deerin said: “If we want to see genuine growth in language skills in Scotland, rather than just paying lip service to the idea, we need to rethink our approach.
“There is a danger the languages currently on offer within the education system are not keeping up with Scottish or global society.
“We need to think much more freely - as many other countries do - about how best to equip ourselves to thrive in the modern global economy. Brexit, the shift of power from West to East, and Scotland’s pressing need to secure greater economic growth, all demand fresh ideas.”
Posted in: Primary
, Senior Phase
, All Languages
, Community Languages
, Language Learning
, Language Policy
, Language Teaching
, Scottish Government
, Languages in the press
21 September 2018 (The Guardian)
For someone who occasionally seems unsure whether their wife is Japanese or Chinese, Jeremy Hunt seems to speak pretty good Japanese.
Unless bits of it were Chinese, obviously. Given the way things have gone lately for Theresa May’s government we probably shouldn’t rule anything out, but let’s just assume the Tokyo audience he addressed in their native tongue this week wasn’t just being polite and that he did actually deliver the whole speech in the correct language.
Whatever you think of Hunt’s politics generally, there was something endearing about the sight of a foreign secretary actually trying to speak some foreign, at a time when much of Britain seems belligerently convinced that if the world doesn’t understand us then we should just shout louder at them. Foreign languages have been in decline in British schools for years, especially at A-level; German in particular is so unpopular now, with a 45% drop in entries since 2010, that some schools will be seriously debating dropping it from the timetable. Languages have become seen as subjects in which it’s too hard to excel, partly because native speakers tend to scoop the A* awards and push the bar higher for everyone else, which makes them too much of a risk for kids intent on getting the grades for university.
Lately there has been some tinkering with grade boundaries to encourage uptake. But while mathematicians and scientists have gone to great lengths to popularise subjects once seen as geeky or intimidatingly difficult, there has been no concerted push behind French or Spanish.
And if we’re honest, Britain’s solid international reputation for being rubbish at languages isn’t just down to the kids. How many of us slogged through years of irregular verbs and asking the way to the station, only to be reduced in middle age to fumbled holiday conversations in shops and frantic pointing?
But watching Hunt reminded me of something I’ve been wondering for a while, which is whether the prospect of leaving Europe will finally make learning a language feel less like a slog and more like a thrillingly subversive act; one great defiant two fingers to everything Brexit Britain stands for.
Languages are lovely things to learn in their own right, of course, if you’re so minded; living, breathing entities that weave in and out of each other, exchanging sounds and words and ideas. But they’re also one of the purest forms of soft power. Speaking to someone in their own tongue is a disarming act, a gesture of empathy and respect. If you’re not actually very good at it then in some ways all the better; at least it’s obvious you’re making an effort, which is why typing furiously into Google Translate doesn’t quite have the same effect.
10 September 2018 (Irish Times)
Lithuanian and Korean will be taught from this week as part of a drive to diversify the number of languages on the curriculum in Irish schools.
Lithuanian will be a short course for junior cycle in schools in Dublin and Monaghan where there is the highest concentration of the country’s natives in Ireland.
According to the last census in 2016, 36,683 Lithuanians live in Ireland. However, the Lithuanian embassy estimates the real figure is twice that if the number of children of immigrants are taken into account.
The course is for a minimum of 100 hours over two years. Some 43 applicants were received from teachers of the language.
The introduction of Lithuanian into Irish school is part of the foreign languages strategy which identifies the need to support immigrant communities to maintain their own languages.
It was introduced last year as part of a 10-year strategy to prepare Ireland for Brexit through a series of steps such as potential bonus Central Applications Office (CAO) points for studying foreign languages.
The Korean language, the 17th most spoken language in the world, is being introduced as a module for transition year. Trade between South Korea and Ireland reached €1.8 billion in 2015.
The language will be introduced into four schools in Dublin.
French accounts for more than half of all language sits in the Leaving Certificate, followed by German (13 per cent), Spanish (11 per cent) and Italian (1 per cent).
Minister for Education Richard Bruton said the teaching and learning of foreign languages is a priority in the post-Brexit world.
30 August 2018 (Sky News)
Some Britons unhappy with the UK's decision to leave the European Union have opted for an unusual form of protest - learning a new language.
In the days leading up to Article 50 being triggered on March 29, 2017, a leading language-learning app reports that it saw a 24% increase in new user sign-ups in the UK.
The CEO of Duolingo, which has 300 million users, told Sky News that the company noticed a spike in sign-ups at the time and saw its users commenting online that they had been motivated by Brexit.
11 August 2018 (The Herald)
Sometimes it seems there’s a perception that Germany is somehow ... well, boring. Apparently news stories about Germany, even in the Herald, get far fewer views than average ones. But why should Germany be such a journalistic turn-off for readers?
[...] Wherever one stands on Brexit, leaving the EU means that Germany is going to become more important to the UK and to Scotland, not less. Yet fewer and fewer people are learning German. (Which is odd, since, contrary to the widespread myth, it’s a relatively easy language to learn.)
7 August 2018 (TES)
An expanding academy chain plans to teach Mandarin to thousands of pupils across its schools, to prepare them for life in post-Brexit Britain.
The Co-op Academies Trust will offer Mandarin Chinese to more than 10,000 students.
The trust, which runs schools in Greater Manchester, Leeds and Stoke-on-Trent, is working with the Swire Chinese Language Foundation, which supports the training of specialist Mandarin Chinese teachers.
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12 July 2018 (Theatre Sans Accents)
Theatre Sans Accents is on the lookout for 4 young people aged 16-25 who are passionate about the performing arts and with an interest in foreign languages and cultures (please note you don't have to be speaking a foreign language or be an experienced artist to apply to this!).
TSA will be running two free (but ticketed) events on Monday 13th August on the topic of Bilingualism and Theatre as part of the Festival at Fringe Central:
- A practical workshop in the morning exploring foreign languages in theatre
- A conversation/debate in the afternoon between a panel of young people, a panel of artists and the audience about the future of British and foreign artists in the UK post Brexit
Award-winning artists and companies Le Petit Monde, Brite Theatre, Jabuti Theatre, Fronteiras Theatre, Ludens Ensemble, Charioteer Theatre and Bilingualism Matters will be present on the day.
If you're selected to be on the panel you can also attend the practical workshop.
All we need from you is a short paragraph about why you wish to participate and why this conversation matters to you.
Any questions, please contact Marion Geoffray at email@example.com
28 June 2018 (The Guardian)
English children are increasingly unwilling to learn the language of Molière and MC Solaar, according to the British Council, which reports that within a few years Spanish will overtake it as the most-studied foreign language. At A-level, takeup has already fallen to 8,300, from 21,300 in 1997, while Spanish has climbed to 7,600.
Laziness seems to have a lot to do with it. As Vicky Gough, a schools adviser at the British Council, put it, “There is a perception of Spanish being easier to pick up than other languages, which may account in part for its popularity.” Which, one might say, confirms another perception: that the kids of today want everything handed to them on a plate, from chauffeur service to and from school, to first-class university degrees.
27 June 2018 (Euronews)
Less than half of English pupils choose to learn a modern foreign language at school, a new report has found.
The proportion of English students sitting foreign language exams at the end of their compulsory education — at age 16 — stood at 47% in 2017, the British Council revealed in its Language Trends survey released on Wednesday.
In 2002, that figure stood at 76%.
7 June 2018 (The Conversation)
In addition to securing the UK’s departure from the EU, the June 2016 Brexit referendum exposed deep-seated prejudice against speakers of languages other than English. Politicians and pundits, including former Ukip leader Nigel Farage, fuelled xenophobic rhetoric by claiming that “in many parts of England you don’t hear English spoken any more”. Meanwhile the media has reported that people are being harassed or attacked on public transport, in shops or on the streets of British towns for “not speaking English”.
Though the EU itself has no plans to use English any less in meetings and documents, Britain cannot rely on this fact to justify its own monolingualism. Speaking other languages and working with other cultures is a global fact and, post-Brexit, Britain will need to work with countries all over the world more than ever.
The troubling presence of linguaphobia is just one legacy of the referendum campaign, but like so many other forms of prejudice, it is nothing new. Linguaphobia is a concept that first developed in the 1950s to identify a form of monolingualism that shows itself in a hostility towards learning other languages. For leading modern linguistics expert Charles Forsdick, post-referendum, this has translated itself into “an ideological phenomenon that judges national belonging in terms of the exclusive use of the English language”.
Yet as Forsdick and others assert, this “ideological monolingualism” is a deeply flawed perception of the history of languages in the UK. It distorts the past and present of multilingualism in the UK, and ill equips the population to face the brave new world of trade and cultural diplomacy it will need to master.
31 May 2018 (THE)
The European Union’s next student exchange programme is set to be opened to any country in the world, paving the way for UK universities and students to take part in Erasmus+ post-Brexit.
In its proposal for the Erasmus+ programme for the period 2021-27, published on 30 May, the European Commission said that countries outside the EU and the European Economic Area would be able to participate fully as long as they do not have a “decisional power” on the programme and agree to a “fair balance” of contributions and benefits.
28 May 2018 (The Guardian)
Britain faces further isolation after Brexit if it doesn’t adjust its citizens’ attitude towards learning foreign languages, a panel of experts has warned, with Britons becoming increasingly “linguaphobic” in the wake of the EU referendum.
Speaking at the Hay literary festival on Friday, a panel including Cardiff University professor Claire Gorrara and linguist Teresa Tinsley, said that Britons had too long relied on a false belief that English was the world’s lingua franca. Only 6% of the global population are native English speakers, with 75% of the world unable to speak English at all. But three-quarters of UK residents can only speak English.
“That English is somehow the norm is a complete misapprehension of the facts, but this notion that everyone is speaking English is persistent and believed by many in the UK,” said Gorrara, warning that economic opportunities and bridge-building with the rest of the world was at risk after Brexit if Britons did not become less “linguaphobic” and learn more languages.
6 May 2018 (The Guardian)
The French president, Emmanuel Macron, never ceases to surprise his audience, especially when he speaks in English. While some of his compatriots were shocked that he should address the US Congress in its native tongue, it pleased a large number of French people who appreciated how he engaged directly in version originale.
A few days later, however, when President Macron thanked the Australian prime minister’s wife, Lucy Turnbull, for being “delicious” – conjuring up images of cannibalism and Hannibal Lecter – some commentators suddenly thought of Macron as creepy. It was hours before somebody thought to tell the Australians that the word “délicieuse” actually means delightful.
Speaking a foreign language is a minefield for anyone who ventures there but also a source of constant wonder, joy and fun. The rewards are manifold and it is even thought to prevent Alzheimer’s disease.
The smartest leaders either know many languages or understand the power of words enough to play with them to their advantage. Perhaps Macron used the word “delicious” on purpose; perhaps, even, the secret behind the strangely warm rapport between Macron, Trump and their wives is built on such deliciously faux amis?
The fact is that multilinguists rule the world. That Angela Merkel is trilingual (she speaks German, Russian and English) should be no surprise. If David Cameron had not been a monoglot, maybe Britain would not have found itself in a Brexit nightmare. Just a thought.
4 May 2018 (The Guardian)
British teenagers are to be given the chance to bid farewell to Europe with free Interrail passes for up to 30 days this summer.
The free tickets, worth up to £400 each, will be offered to any EU citizens who turn 18 before July as part of a pilot DiscoverEU scheme funded by the EU.
With Brexit on the horizon this is the first and last year British teenagers can apply for the rail bonanza, which has just been launched in Brussels.
“Any future participating depends on the outcome of the Brexit negotiations and the future relationship between the UK and the EU,” said Nathalie Vandystadt, the EU commission spokesperson for education, culture, youth and sport.
2 May 2018 (British Academy)
The British Academy, the UK’s body for the humanities and social sciences, has urged the Government not to prioritise some subjects over others, arguing that a healthy, prosperous and global Britain needs a diversity of graduates.
It also warns of the risks of relying too much on market-driven solutions in a post-Brexit world.
In its submission to the Government’s review of post-18 education and funding, the British Academy highlights the contribution of graduates from the arts, humanities and social sciences to the UK’s culture, economy and international reputation. Many of the 1.25m who study these disciplines each year go on to work in the service sector, which makes up some 80% of the UK’s economy. They also drive the creative industries, one of the UK’s major cultural exports. Others enter jobs of social importance such as teaching and social work.
The British Academy’s submission highlights a growing trend of universities shrinking or closing courses in subjects such as languages and philosophy. In the last decade, at least 10 modern languages departments have closed and a further nine significantly downsized.
The British Academy cites a report for the government published in 2014 which estimates that a lack of foreign language skills could already be costing the UK billions of pounds.
5 April 2018 (Scottish Government)
The Scottish Government's Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Relations Committee launched a short and focused inquiry into Scotland's participation in the Erasmus+ programme in November 2017. The purpose of the inquiry was to learn more about the opportunities currently available under Erasmus+ and to consider the implications of Scotland no longer participating in the programme after the UK withdraws from the European Union (EU).
The report highlights that Erasmus+ also plays an important role in supporting the Scottish Government’s 1+2 (mother tongue + 2 additional languages) approach to language learning.
Posted in: All Languages
, Language Learning
, Language Teaching
, Partnership Working
, Study Abroad
, Teacher Education
, News from language & education organisations
22 March 2018 (British Council)
The debate over the details of the UK’s future collaboration with the EU is at a critical stage. Emma Skelton reports on a recent expert seminar on the future of UK-EU partnerships for higher education.
The British Council and the Centre for European Policy Studies recently convened a high-level policy dialogue in Brussels on ‘The Future of the EU-UK Partnership on Higher Education and Student Mobility’. This was part of a series of events between key EU and UK policymakers and influencers examining the implications of Brexit for existing collaboration in the sectors of international development, culture and education.
Much discussion at the event focussed on the Erasmus+ programme. Erasmus+ is the largest provider of student mobility for British students to countries in Europe and beyond. Contributors to the seminar highlighted the importance of the UK to the scheme as a whole, as one of the most popular destination countries, which speakers attributed in part to the excellent reputation of UK universities. They also emphasised the call from British companies for more talent with international experience, intercultural awareness and language skills, which can all be gained through mobility programmes such as Erasmus+.
Students to learn more foreign languages under post-Brexit plan
7 February 2018 (Irish Times)
Applies to Ireland
More students will be encouraged to learn foreign languages and study abroad under a plan to build closer links with Europe following Brexit.
The Government’s action plan for education acknowledges that Ireland needs to prepare for a changed dynamic in the EU following the UK’s departure and the rising importance of non-English speaking countries globally.
26 January 2018 (Times)
We take it for granted that public figures from the rest of Europe can speak flawless English, as Emmanuel Macron did in his interview on the Andrew Marr Show last Sunday. We expect the presidents and prime ministers of France, Spain, Germany, Belgium, Sweden or Norway to be able to conduct their politics and diplomacy with us in English.
And yet we are impressed when a British political leader reciprocates.
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22 January 2018 (Metro)
Britain is facing huge problems after the Brexit vote because not enough children are learning other languages, the British Council has warned.
The council claims the lack of language skills is holding back international trade performance by nearly £50 billion each year and worries there could be a gulf once the UK leaves the EU.
Schools advisor Vicky Gough said: ‘At a time when the UK is preparing to leave the European Union, I think it’s worrying that we’re facing a language deficit. And I think without tackling that, we stand to lose out both economically, but also culturally. So I think it’s really important that we have a push for the value of languages.’
19 January 2018 (Association for Language Learning)
The recent British Council publication ‘Languages for the Future’ spells out clearly the challenge facing the MFL fraternity in the UK. MFL are fading in both the secondary and HE sectors at precisely the time when we are going to need more English speakers with competence in foreign languages. Although we do not yet know precisely what lies ahead for us after March 2019, the probability is that we will need more people with competence in a wider range of languages than what our current system produces.
12 January 2018 (TESS)
Brexit will cause a “major disaster” for schools and colleges if it removes access to the biggest student exchange programme in the world, politicians have heard.
The potential loss of the long-running Erasmus+ scheme would not only deny thousands of young people potentially life-changing opportunities in other countries, but could also harm teachers’ professional development, according to experts.
11 January 2018 (The Courier)
The loss of a European student exchange programme would be a “major disaster” for language teaching in Scottish schools, says a Dundee lecturer.
The Erasmus+ scheme allows young Scots to study for part of their degree elsewhere in the Europe, but its future is uncertain after Brexit.
Marion Spöring, a languages lecturer at Dundee University said the programme is vital in training Scotland’s teachers and improving education standards.
29 December 2017 (BBC)
Learning a language will be a new year's resolution for about one in five Britons in 2018, a survey suggests.
About one in three said they intend to learn at least some key phrases. Spanish was the most popular language among 2,109 UK adults questioned by Populus for the British Council.
"If we are to remain globally competitive post-Brexit, we need more people who can speak languages," said British Council schools advisor, Vicky Gough.
11 December 2017 (Financial Times)
If managers in decent-sized UK companies need someone who speaks German, Finnish or Polish, all they need to do is send a group email or wander through the office and ask. More than four decades of EU membership have made British employers lazy about languages: freedom of movement has brought hundreds of thousands of European workers to the UK, and their languages have come with them. What will happen if fewer of them arrive, and more go home, as is already happening?
4 December 2017 (The Irish Times)
An ambitious Government strategy aims to dramatically increase the number of students taking two foreign languages in the State exams despite an acute shortage of qualified teachers for these subjects.
The 10-year foreign language strategy seeks to prepare Ireland for Brexit through a series of steps such as potential bonus Central Applications Office (CAO) points for studying foreign languages, boosting the availability of languages in schools and the introduction of Chinese to the curriculum.
27 November 2017 (The Guardian)
As a hopeless optimist, I am finding it difficult to adjust to the growing possibility of a no-deal Brexit. For universities – as for many other sectors of the economy and society – there is a huge amount at stake. While the rhetoric on both sides in relation to higher education and research has been very positive, the frequently expressed mutual desire to maintain co-operation will be more difficult to achieve in the absence of an agreement on our future relationship with the EU.
Based on the public comments of ministers, including the prime minister, and of our European counterparts, a deal would almost certainly secure the UK’s continued participation in Horizon 2020 and Erasmus + until the end of the current programmes. It could also pave the way for the UK to participate in future programmes under association agreements. Without a deal, however, we could find ourselves reliving the experience of our Swiss colleagues, who were shut out of these programmes overnight in 2014.
For students planning to study abroad, this continued uncertainty is a growing problem. This autumn, students starting at UK universities for whom a third year abroad is a compulsory element of their programmes arrived on campus not knowing how that year abroad would be organised. Universities could not tell them with any certainty whether the UK will still be eligible to participate in the Erasmus + scheme – and the same was true for our European counterparts whose students might be planning to come to the UK.
24 November 2017 (Financial Times)
On trips to the Netherlands, I always ponder how long it would take me, a competent Afrikaans speaker, to learn Dutch. Not long, I think, but it would probably be fruitless. English is widely and fluently spoken in the Netherlands; I imagine my initial halting Dutch would be met with amusement.
So I was surprised to see that a recent British Council report of the top 10 languages young Britons should learn put Dutch in seventh place. The top-10 table was based on a study of the UK’s export and tourism markets, emerging high-growth economies, diplomatic and security priorities and job and educational opportunities.
17 November 2017 (TESS)
Building partnerships with schools overseas may seem like a less attractive prospect after the UK exits the European Union, but the benefits to pupils make these continental forays worth fighting for.
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17 November 2017 (TESS)
The number of modern-language assistants (MLAs) in Scotland has almost halved in a year, amid fears that Brexit has deterred European students from working in the UK.
Subscription required to access this article.
16 November 2017 (British Council)
Dutch recently joined the ranks as one of the top ten languages that the UK needs in 2017. But why is learning Dutch useful? We asked Anna Devi Markus from British Council in Amsterdam.
14 November 2017 (British Council)
The United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union is fundamentally changing its relationships with the countries of the EU, and with the rest of the world. But which languages will be most important for the UK? And how well is the UK equipped to meet the current and future language need? The British Council's Alice Campbell-Cree, who edited the Languages for the Future report, summarises.
Guardian (14 November 2017)
The potential risk to UK universities from post-Brexit academic flight has been laid bare in a report that reveals there are regions where up to half of academic staff in some departments are EU nationals.
The British Academy report warns that economics and modern language departments will be particularly badly hit if European academics leave the UK, with more than a third of staff in each discipline currently from EU member states.
10 November 2017 (The Guardian)
Kate Pemberton, 24, spent a semester of her undergraduate anthropology and international relations degree at the University of Copenhagen. She loved it – so when it came to choosing a master’s, the city was her first choice.
[...] Pemberton feels the experience of studying abroad has given her valuable skills. “I’ve been learning Danish, which isn’t the most useful language, but I think any language is a bonus on your CV,” she says. “Plus, employers want what moving abroad and living in a different country gives you – you become more adaptable and can survive in stressful situations. It makes you more resilient and you open yourself up to more opportunities.”
3 November 2017 (The Guardian)
The language (or languages) spoken in a society help to define its identity. That is as true of Britain as of every other nation. Most countries, like Britain, have one or sometimes more official languages. To become British, for instance, a person must prove knowledge of English. Equivalent provisions exist in almost all other countries.
Language rules can be positive or negative in effect. In linguistically polarised Belgium, the rival tongues are a permanent source of tension. In others, they are a source of vibrancy; Catalonia’s renewed sense of itself, for example, is grounded in the distinctness of its language and by a history of discrimination against it. Elsewhere, the issues are more tangled. Sinn Féin’s current demands for Irish language parity in Northern Ireland are holding up the restoration of devolved government there. They do not reflect widespread Irish speaking (only 6% of Northern Irish people speak Irish) so much as a determination not to be defined, through the language spoken by unionists, as British.
Modern Britain has a decent tradition of nurturing minority languages. But Britons have long been getting more parochial about speaking foreign ones. Three-quarters of UK residents can’t hold a conversation in any language other than English. This linguistic monoculture would be even more hegemonic if it were not for bilingual migrants. It reflects many things, but the decline in language teaching is one of the most important. GCSE entries in most foreign languages tend to fall each year. A long decline in the numbers with language qualifications has translated into a loss of those able to teach them.
21 October 2017 (MEITS)
In this podcast Wendy Ayres-Bennett from the University of Cambridge talks to Baroness Jean Coussins, Co-Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Modern Languages, about the need for a national languages policy and a more holistic approach towards languages in the UK.
Posted in: All Languages
, Language Learning - Benefits
, Language Learning - Decline
, Language Policy
, Language Skills
, Promoting Languages
, News from language & education organisations
12 October 2017 (The Telegraph)
Ours is a trading nation, connected to countries in every continent by shared history, shared values and, on occasion, shared language.
We are a country that thrives in making its way in the world. Once we leave the European Union we will, once again, be free to forge mutually beneficial relationships with peoples all over the globe.
Drawing on the genius of the great economists of our Union’s history, this Kingdom will once again be at the forefront of global free trade. Once again, it will fall to Britain and her close allies to make the Smith, Mill and Ricardo’s moral and economic case for markets, free trade and comparative advantage.
Key to our success in this endeavour is the preparedness of the next generation to compete and sell their wares in a global economy. In an ever more technical world, it is important that pupils leave school with the knowledge that will best prepare them for the demands of life in 21st century Britain.
4 October 2017 (TES)
'Instead of focusing on narrowing the curriculum with the Ebacc, the government needs to focus increasing MFL knowledge in schools – it will be crucial in a post-Brexit Britain'.
A press release landed in my inbox earlier this week warning of a looming languages deficit in the UK, post-Brexit.
According to its figures, 61 per cent of Brits speak no other language than English – a proportion, it's speculated that will rise as EU nationals and British linguists leave the country for jobs abroad, taking their skills with them. At the same time, English will decline as a global language – it's already been replaced by Chinese, Hindi and Spanish, which all have more native speakers.
Languages float my boat. I was a first-generation child born in the UK, of immigrant parents, who started school with no English. This was in the days before teaching assistants, EAL and other interventions. I don’t actually recall how, or when, I learned English but it didn’t take long. "Just get on with it" was the approach. I think they called it immersion.
The press release turned out to be promoting a language-learning app but setting that to one side, it raised some important questions.
Are we bad at languages in this country because of the quality of teaching and teacher shortages? Or is it because we’re ambivalent about others and their culture?
As we hurtle towards March 2019, it is one of many issues ministers need to address. As we face the reality of leaving the EU, languages are just one aspect of the deficits in our education system. And, so far, there has been little evidence of any joined-up thinking between government rhetoric and domestic practicalities.
24 August 2017 (Prospect Magazine)
Ever since 2004, when the Labour government gave schools the freedom to make languages optional, education ministers have awaited GCSE and A level entry figures with the trepidation of candidates who know they have messed up their French oral. Numbers for foreign languages GCSEs have dropped by a whopping 44 per cent and numbers for French and German A levels have declined by more than a third over the past 13 years.
This year’s crop of A level exam figures have been greeted with relief by government and exam boards alike. “Steady” and “stable” have been the preferred adjectives. But GCSE numbers published on Thursday show another huge decline which appears to wipe out earlier increases linked to some of Michael Gove’s reforms.
The headline statistics here are troubling indeed. Numbers for French are down 10 per cent on last year, and for German 13 per cent, making this year’s figures the lowest yet. But even this does not do justice to the true extent of the crisis in language learning, which runs through all parts of the education system. To appreciate the full scale of the problem, you have to dig deeper into the numbers. As we approach Brexit and the readjustment of the UK’s relationship with the rest of the world, we would do well to take this seriously.
23 August 2017 (German Embassy London)
Since my return to London as German Ambassador, the GCSE and A-level results published in August have always been a moment of disappointment for me, as the number of students taking German has kept falling. The relentless decline of modern language teaching and learning across the UK remains both a saddening and troubling trend.
When the author David Cornwell, better known as John le Carré, spoke at the annual German Teacher Awards ceremony at my Residence in June, he said these powerful words:
“The decision to learn a foreign language is to me an act of friendship. It is indeed a holding out of the hand. It’s not just a route to negotiation. It’s also to get to know you better, to draw closer to you and your culture, your social manners and your way of thinking.”
While I recognise the importance and global role of English, I firmly believe that language skills are more vital than ever in the 21st century.
The UK rightly intends to play an even greater role in a globalised world after Brexit. This, I believe, will not be possible unless young Britons are encouraged to be outward-looking from an early age. Learning a foreign language will be key, and German, which is mother tongue to more people in Europe than any other language, would be an ideal choice.
7 August 2017 (Language Magazine)
While the 2016 UK European Union (EU) Membership Referendum launched the current public conversation on the status of English in the EU, it has been—just as much, if not more—a conversation on the future of French within the EU.
In order to understand the significance of this conversation about language, and languages, it is necessary to begin with the significance of multilingualism as a core value of the EU, which has implemented and supported plurilingualism, often referred to as “mother tongue plus two,” as a pragmatic educational objective.
In alignment with this core value of multilingualism, Europe accounts for more than half (53.9%) of the global language-services sector, which is valued at USD 38.2 billion per year, and the French Hewlett-Packard’s Application and Content Localization group (HPPACG) is the third-largest language-services provider in the world.
From the original four official languages of the European Community, the number has grown to 24, with English, French, and German (in alphabetical order) the informal de facto working/procedural languages, and the French government has long been an active advocate for the use of French.
But as the UK prepares to leave the EU, leaving no member nation with English registered as its official language, the role of English within the EU has been questioned, with suggestions made that French and German should be the sole working/procedural languages.
5 August 2017 (The Herald)
FRESH concerns have been raised that not enough youngsters are learning foreign languages, as figures show a slump in applications to study the subject at university.
The numbers of applications for degree courses linked to European languages have fallen by almost a quarter in the past five years, while the numbers for other language courses have dropped by almost a fifth, according to an analysis by the Press Association. At the same time, there has been a decline in the numbers studying languages traditionally offered by schools, such as French and German, to GCSE and A-level.
The analysis indicates Spanish has grown in popularity in recent times along with other courses, such as Arabic and Chinese.
The British Council, which specialises in international cultural relations, warned that if the UK is to remain globally competitive in the wake of Brexit it needs more young people to be learning languages.
Posted in: All Languages
, Cultural Diversity
, Language Learning - Decline
, Language Learning for Work
, Language Skills
, National Qualifications
, Languages in the press
2 August 2017 (Birmingham Mail / The Mirror)
A new study has found the most lucrative foreign languages for British workers to learn.
Apparently, Japanese and the Chinese languages offer average salaries of more than £31,000 for those who can speak them.
Adzuna compiled the study to mark the anniversary of the Brexit vote.
And researchers uncovered the languages most in demand by UK employers, alongside how much they are willing to pay for them.
A growing interest in non-European languages was revealed, with Japanese, Chinese, Arabic and Russian all featuring in the UK's top 10 most wanted languages, according to the Mirror.
1 August 2017 (THE)
Erasmus, the world's largest student exchange scheme, is celebrating its 30th birthday.
With more than three million participants since 1987, it is one of the best known and most successful policies of the European Union.
Now including adult learners, vocational students and those on work placements, in addition to university students, it has created an “Erasmus generation”, having been responsible for more than a million babies born from couples who met as part of the scheme.
About 16,000 UK students now spend a semester or a year abroad as part of Erasmus every year. France, Spain and Germany remain the most popular destinations for these students, reflecting the traditional emphasis on students taking modern language or combination degrees. However, many universities across continental Europe now offer modules in English, which has helped to increase the number of UK students able to participate who do not have prior language skills. As students strive to add distinctiveness to their CVs, the number of UK participants has increased.
In addition, the UK is one of the most popular destinations for European students, with these study placements becoming part of Britain's cultural and educational ‘soft power’ by creating thousands of de-facto UK alumni across Europe.
However, while the House of Commons Education Committee believes that “continued membership of Erasmus+ would be the best outcome for the UK”, its future participation was not mentioned in the government’s recent White Paper. The government has only committed itself to considering future participation.
The question therefore is “can the UK continue to be part of it post-Brexit?”
Since Erasmus is a programme of the European Union and established by EU law, the initial answer is no.
However, as with everything else, all depends on the exit agreement between the UK and EU before the UK leaves in March 2019. It may be that the UK continues to be a part of the scheme up to the end of the current programme (2014-2020) with future involvement subject to a separate agreement.
31 July 2017 (AHRC)
Many of us will be familiar with the sight of groups of young language students in UK cities over the summer months. Their excitement at being abroad away from their parents often for the first time is obvious. In 2016, he International Association of Language Centres (IALC) reported that there were 2.28 million language students travelling abroad each year, with English language travel making up around 61% of this market.
Whilst these language-learners only represented 0.25% of second language learners across the entire globe, most travelled to English-speaking countries to learn English. If the motivation for learning English in our increasing globalised world is clear, the British often struggle to appreciate the reasons for learning another language.
“The headline news for Modern Languages recently has not been good, with decreasing numbers of entrants at A-level and a number of university departments under threat of closure or severe contraction", said Wendy Ayres-Bennett, Professor of French Philology and Linguistics from the University of Cambridge.
In response to this national concern and its global implications, the AHRC has committed £16m to research in modern foreign languages (MFL) in its Open World Research Initiative (OWRI) project. Its aim is to explore and understand the language learning landscape of the UK, and how it might be transformed.
As part of OWRI, the AHRC has invested in four major research programmes, one of which is Multilingualism: Empowering Individuals, Transforming Societies (MEITS). Alongside her responsibilities at Cambridge, Prof Ayres-Bennett is Principal Investigator for the MEITS project.
“I think that in the current political climate of Brexit and of extensive migration, the need to learn modern foreign languages has arguably never been more important", says Prof Ayres-Bennett.
“I believe that there are huge benefits from being able to step outside a single language, culture and mode of thought", explains Prof Ayres-Bennett. "It enables you to see the world through other people’s eyes".
Prof Ayres-Bennett argues that the ability to speak another language is valuable to many different areas of society. "Whether we think of international relations, diplomacy, security and defence, or areas such as conflict-resolution and peace-building, or, crucially today, business, international trade, and social cohesion, all of these have languages at their heart."
Linguists are needed to provide vital translation and interpreting services. However, the need for direct communication between parties was well demonstrated by the experience of the British military in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Prof Ayres-Bennett also thinks that through reading literature in the language in which it was written, we can begin to see the world through the linguistic categories and worldview of its speakers.
"The gradual opening up of new worlds and the move from incomprehension to being able to make sense of another language and culture can be truly magical ”, says Prof Ayres-Bennett.
Scandi noir dramas have become very popular and one of the biggest hits of the year has been the Spanish language song 'Despacito'. Many young people in Europe improve their English through listening to music and watching films in English so that they no longer need to depend on subtitles.“TV and the internet increasingly provide opportunities for people to view foreign language material and to learn about other cultures.”
2 July 2017 (Observer)
To help make the European debate decent and civilised, it is now more important than ever to value the skills of the linguist.
2 July 2017 (BBC)
Teachers in Wales are "extremely worried" about the future of foreign languages in the country, according to a British Council survey.
It found more than a third of Welsh schools now have less than 10% of Year 10 pupils studying a modern foreign language.
British Council Wales said prospects remained "extremely challenging".
The Welsh Government said its action plan to improve take-up of languages was already under way.
Other findings of the survey included:
- 44% of schools have fewer than five pupils studying a foreign language at AS level
- 61% of schools have fewer than five foreign language pupils at A-level
- 64% of modern foreign language departments have just one or two full-time teachers, with one third depend on non-British EU nationals for their staff
Between 2002 and 2016, the number of pupils studying a foreign language to GCSE level has fallen by 48% to 6,891 pupils last year.
At A-level, numbers have fallen by 44% since 2001.
The report said the outlook for foreign languages looked "even more fragile in the context of financial pressures on schools and the potential impact of leaving the European Union".
15 June 2017 (The Conversation)
Britain is facing an uncertain future and an uneasy relationship with Europe after Brexit and the latest general election. Among other things, a key determiner of the success of Brexit will be the UK’s ability to conduct negotiations without language barriers. But the country’s woeful inability to learn languages, and the decline in foreign language learning among school and university students across Britain, does not bode well.
Of course, Welsh, Gaelic, Irish and Cornish are already spoken in some parts of the UK. And while it’s great to see many of these minority languages experiencing something of a revival over recent years, when it comes to life after Brexit it’s languages from further afield that will likely be most useful to Brits.
Many people in the UK may well ask “why we need languages” when “everyone in Europe speaks English anyway”. Indeed, all Brexit negotiations will be conducted in English. But given that the UK’s lack of foreign language skill is estimated to cost the nation up to £48 billion a year, this isn’t something that can just be ignored. Especially considering this figure is unlikely to decrease in post-Brexit Britain.
2 June 2017 (The Independent)
Being able to speak to people in their own tongue instantly breaks down hostility and broadens the mind. But in the age of Brexit, the acquisition of other languages has become a political act. Andy Martin wonders was there ever a Big Bang moment when we all understood each other?
24 May 2017 (The Guardian)
We Brits are pretty settled in our role as monoglots. Our default tactic of “speak English slowly and loudly so others can understand you” served us well enough – and then Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European commission, put the boot in by claiming recently that “English is losing importance.”
Is this really the case? Experts are divided.
22 May 2017 (The Conversation)
One of the most striking features of the recent French presidential elections and the subsequent nomination of a new prime minister and his cabinet has been the attention paid by the French media to the linguistic competences of the nation’s politicians.
8 May 2017 (The Independent)
The British public’s appetite for learning foreign languages has increased significantly after the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union, according to newly released data.
Languages app Lingvist says it has seen a 91 per cent increase in UK users since the EU referendum last June, having compared its user base during the nine months before the vote to its user base in the nine months after the vote.
The popularity of English-Spanish courses has grown by 427 per cent, according to the data, with English-French courses experiencing a 342 per cent increase in popularity amongst British users.
“With Brexit around the corner, the growing concerns around how the UK will be able to bridge the language skills gap have been brought to the fore,” said Lingvist co-founder and COO Ott Jalakas.
“Government statistics show that the UK is already losing £50bn a year due to poor language skills with an over-reliance on one language affecting business turnover, profitability and expansion to new markets.
“Our data shows that the UK is on the right path to bridge the language learning gap.”
5 May 2017 (BBC)
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has told a conference in Italy on the EU that "English is losing importance in Europe".
Amid tensions with the UK over looming Brexit negotiations, he said he was delivering his speech in French.
"Slowly but surely English is losing importance in Europe and also because France has an election," he said, explaining his choice of language.
[..] Before the UK joined in 1973, French was the main language of EU business.
19 April 2017 (News Talk)
(Applies to Ireland) All pupils will study a foreign language for their Junior Cert by 2021 under ambitious new plans being announced by the Education Minister.
The strategy also aims to increase the number of Leaving Cert students studying a foreign language by 10%.
Chinese will be introduced as a Leaving Cert subject for the first time, while so-called 'heritage languages' such as Polish, Lithuanian and Portuguese will get a proper curriculum.
Speaking to Pat Kenny, Minister Richard Bruton explained: "We are going to have to, post-Brexit, realise that one of the common weaknesses of English speaking countries - that we disregard foreign languages - has to be addressed in Ireland.
"We need now to trade in the growth areas - and many of those speak Spanish, Portuguese and Mandarin. Those are the languages that we need to learn to continue to trade successfully."
On the subject of Eastern European languages, he observed: "We now have many Lithuanians and Polish here, and we can develop those languages.
"We also need to use programmes like Erasmus - we want to increase our participation there by 50%. Clearly it has to become more immersed in the language.
"At the moment if you look at Leaving Cert and Junior Cert, French dominates. French is a lovely language, but we need to recognise that we need to diversify into other languages."
Posted in: S1-S3
, Senior Phase
, All Languages
, Northern Ireland
, Language Learning
, Language Policy
, Language Teaching
, Promoting Languages
, Languages in the press
13 April 2017 (The Independent)
I can still remember a conversation I had as a teenager about GCSE subject. I had the choice between doing Spanish or Geography. My late father was unequivocal: do Spanish because you have no idea how many doors another language will open for you. Three decades later I am still thankful for heeding his advice, given just how much of an influence it has had on my career and my personal life.
The Conservative Party political broadcast this week, and its 2017 local election campaign, talk about us becoming a new "Global Britain". But this Government is simultaneously failing to address the problem to achieving that ambition – that so many British people cannot speak a second language.
Boris Johnson enjoyed travelling the world to promote London at any opportunity when he was Mayor. But while Boris speaks very good French, as did Tony Blair, these politicians are hardly representative of the rest of the country. Our inability to speak other languages is an international joke which ranks as embarrassing as our perpetual failure to progress in international football tournaments. Three quarters of adults surveyed by YouGov back in 2013 admitted they were unable to hold a conversation in another major foreign language.
This is the best way to prepare kids for Brexit
(The Independent, 15 April 2017)
13 April 2017 (Quartz Media)
We live in narrow-minded times, wherein insularity and nationalism are pervasive in public discourse. If you’re among the many people looking for ways to take political action, one of the most effective things you can do is devote yourself to learning a new foreign language.
Learning a new language is a way to foster community and understanding between people of all political persuasions and nationalities. This can act both as a potent corrective force to any tendencies of narrow-mindedness we may be harboring, and as a form of political resistance. It’s a concrete action that all of us can take to move the needle toward a more just and open-minded mentality.
To understand why this is the case, it’s useful to consider all the ways in which learning a language helps steel us against the prevailing small-mindedness of our times.
Learning a language helps you understand your own culture better.
Though we speak our own language all the time, we don’t tend to notice how it works until we learn another one. Until then, we lack the necessary perspective: As the German poet Goethe said, “Those who know nothing of foreign languages know nothing of their own.”
12 April 2017 (Press and Journal)
The Polish ambassador has called for his country’s language to be taught in Scottish schools.
Arkady Rzegocki said he had raised the issue with ministers since taking up his post last year.
He also told the Press and Journal that schools in Poland have “much more knowledge” about Britain and Scotland than their counterparts here.
Mr Rzegocki, who visited Scotland two weeks ago, said: “From my perspective it’s a really great opportunity and great chance because we need more information about Poland and about central Europe generally in British schools, in Scottish schools.
“And also the Polish language should be learned as a foreign language.”
He added: “This lack of knowledge is a real barrier from my perspective, a real barrier to better economical cooperation.
“It’s fair to say we have much, much more knowledge about Britain, about Scotland in Polish schools, in Poland, so we have to make it more equal.”
He also said he is trying to encourage more Polish people to visit Scotland and vice versa.
And he highlighted Polish Heritage Day next month, which he described as an opportunity for British and Polish people to learn more about each other’s history and customs.
11 April 2017 (The Guardian)
Only half of the UK’s young adults see themselves as having a European identity and one in five do not identify as being British, a survey has found.
The poll also found that exposure to different nationalities among 18- to 30-year-olds in the UK was low, with just 13% ever having worked abroad and just one in three proficient enough to speak Spanish, French or any other foreign language at a “simple” level.
According to the study, commissioned by thinktank Demos and supported by the British Council as part of the Next Generation research series, young people were also less well travelled than reports on student gap years would imply.
10 April 2017 (The Conversation)
The formal negotiations to untangle the UK from the intricacies of the European Union are now well underway. And it is clear that looking forward, Britain’s new relationship with the EU will necessitate conducting trade and political communications in a new dynamic – one which is unlikely to be done in the medium of English.
When the UK leaves the EU there will be no member state remaining where English is the lead official language. “Ah”, you say, “what about Ireland, they speak English there”. Yes they do, but in Ireland, Irish Gaelic is considered the first official language.
So to trade with the EU, the UK will need high-level negotiators fluent in German, French and Spanish, which it currently does not have.
Additionally, leaving the EU will result in a restriction of immigrants from across EU member states. The need for visas will drastically reduce the number of workers who can come to the UK to fill jobs British people are either unwilling or unable to do.
And recognising this gap, the Foreign and Common Wealth office and the Ministry of Defence have opened in-house training centres to provide lessons in up to 80 different languages for their staff.
5 April 2017 (World Economic Forum)
As the UK prepares to leave the EU, it has a huge number of considerations to ensure its economy prospers. One, which is perhaps overlooked, is Britain’s language policy and how important this is as an economic resource. A strategic language policy and the cultivation of language experts in post-Brexit Britain are essential if it wants to connect with fresh markets overseas.
This has long been a feature of international diplomacy – stretching back long before globalisation as we know it. All the big powers of the Old World depended on understanding other people’s languages to trade across cultures. A “modern” solution was found in Babylonia, an ancient commercial metropolitan hub in the Near East, where a polyglot community of traders came together from the Mediterranean, Persia and Turkey, and beyond.
There are accounts of King Hammurabi deftly exploiting his city’s growing cultural mix as a resource in the 1790s BC. He used bilingual foreign traders as cross-cultural brokers. With their language skills, they played a key role in facilitating long-range trade with distant markets.
One of the biggest challenges facing the UK economy now is a skills shortage. Although funding is promised to support technical skills training, UK business also requires professionals with language skills to achieve sales in fresh markets. These experts will need to speak the languages of trading partners and understand the cultures of new overseas contacts to negotiate and seal deals. Investment in this crucial soft skill is needed.
29 March 2017 (Deutsche Welle)
What does Brexit mean for language-learning and cultural exchange in the UK? The head of London's Goethe-Institut told DW that the impact is already being felt - but she remains optimistic for the future.
24 March 2017 (The New European)
In what could be a perfect metaphor for the chaos unleashed by Brexit, the future of the British Isles’ minority languages has been thrown into doubt by the decision to leave the EU. And, says Maurice Smith, that uncertainty could have profound cultural and economic implications
From street signs, to television stations, schools, music and literature, the British Isles is a linguistically diverse archipelago, home to various native languages, whose fortunes have always fluctuated through the centuries.
But with Brexit has come a new threat, to menace them all. The situation is politically acute in Ireland, where promotion of Irish Gaelic education is a key element of the peace agreement in the North, and has particularly strong overtones as a result. At Stormont, in recent months, the two main parties – Democratic Unionists (DUP) and Sinn Fein – have been at loggerheads over the latter’s demand that Irish becomes the devolved government’s second official language.
There may be a less abrasive political dimension in Scotland and Wales, but Scots Gaelic and Welsh have nevertheless become increasingly important in terms of preservation, education and broadcasting investment. But as Scotland moves towards another referendum on independence, we can expect more abrasion on this issue.
The politics of language funding is the politics of national diversity, and Brexit, and agitation for a vote on Scottish independence, are bringing such differences into sharp relief.
These minority languages, and others such as Cornish, have all benefited from UK and devolved government support. But that has been underpinned by their status as recognised minority languages within the EU. The fear is that Brexit will lead to less support, and especially less money, for education, promotion and cultural support.
22 March 2017 (FT)
Theresa May will trigger Article 50 on March 29, but much of UK business has no idea what Brexit will mean for them. During discussions in the past few weeks, I have heard of financial services companies applying for licences in EU countries in case they need to move some of their operations there. But most businesses are watching and waiting to assess what comes out of the negotiations.
There is one thing many companies are sure of: they cannot manage without their EU staff. It is not just the numbers of EU nationals working in many industries. Some companies are also desperate to hold on to the languages those citizens speak.
10 March 2017 (TESS)
Brexit will “impoverish” pupils’ education by driving away staff, removing opportunities to study abroad and diminishing language teaching, independent schools are warning.
John Edward, director of the Scottish Council of Independent Schools (SCIS), told TESS that teachers of modern languages and IT were leaving the UK “and not coming back”.
Mr Edward predicted that the departures would mount steadily in the next three to four years and have a “big impact” on Scottish schools.
The full article can be accessed via TESS online, 10 March 2017 (subscription required).
27 February 2017 (CityA.M.)
The UK’S future relationship with Europe is far from certain. With many of Brexit’s economic consequences still panning out, it is a good time to reflect on how the UK can maintain a global trading edge after its exit from the EU.
In this respect, post-Brexit UK companies would do well to embrace foreign languages as a matter of urgency in order to cement the creation of effective cultural and business relationships with prospective EU and non-EU trading partners.
While English is undoubtedly one of the most widely spoken languages in the world and largely used as the lingua franca in corporate diplomacy, I believe that a lack of intercultural and language competence on the UK’s part could jeopardise the future global standing and prosperity of its businesses.
As former German Chancellor Willy Brandt put it over 40 years ago: “if I am selling to you, I speak your language. If I am buying, dann müssen Sie Deutsch sprechen”. Indeed, multilingual businesses are proven to benefit from richer interactions between partners, employees, suppliers and customers as well as increased sales and return on investment. It also offers a significant edge on the competition by enabling a wider customer and client base.
25 February 2017 (The Herald)
There is a hoary myth going round about a wilful Scottish Government wasting taxpayers’ money on the flagrant imposition of bilingual signs at every Scottish road and railway station, presumably as part of a dark conspiracy to make us all speak Gaelic and unwittingly vote en masse for independence.
It is one of many misunderstandings, and occasional slurs, perpetuated by some who resent any money being spent on Gaelic.
10 February 2017 (UCML)
This letter has been written by a number of heads of UK modern languages and linguistics subject associations, including UCML, and endorsed by several others. It will be sent to the media and a number of leading UK politicians.
6 February 2017 (The Telegraph)
It was at the end of February last year, that myself and my fellow languages students found out where we would be spending our third year abroad. Most of us had chosen to study at various universities across Europe with the help of Erasmus, the European Union’s university study programme that has benefited hundreds of thousands of young people both in Britain and on the continent over the past 30 years.
Little did we know then that four months later, the British public would vote to leave the European Union, and as the 23 June loomed, it dawned on us how Brexit might impact our studies abroad. Will leaving the EU mean that Britain will also leave the Erasmus programme? Many of us were expecting our elaborate year abroad plans to suddenly become scuppered, but in short, the answer is no, and eight months later, Britain’s involvement in the Erasmus scheme remains unchanged.
However, one can’t help but wonder how much longer Britain’s involvement in Erasmus will last. With Article 50 set to be triggered no later than the end of March and the Prime Minister announcing our exit from the Single Market, will the EU continue to consider us part of a scheme that is so dependent on the free movement of people?
3 February 2017 (The Conversation)
'If your strategy is to trade only with people that speak English that’s going to be a poor strategy.'
Top US economist Larry Summers recently tweeted this in relation to America’s focus on its so-called special relationship with the UK. And he’s right. The economic impact on the US – or any other country – that closes off its trade barriers with countries that are different to it would be enormous.
Language matters on a large-scale national level and at the level of smaller businesses.
18 January 2017 (THE)
How can linguists make the case for their subject in a new and seemingly hostile climate of political populism?
That was the theme of a workshop organised by the University Council for Modern Languages and held in London on 6 January.
Since the Brexit vote, said Silke Mentchen, senior language teaching officer at the University of Cambridge, she had felt like “a bargaining chip”, waiting for details of the status of the many European Union nationals working in British universities.
Partly in order to “combat [her] own feelings of powerlessness”, she had carried out a survey with Andrea Klaus of the University of Warwick “documenting the benefits to students of a year abroad”, which are often supported by EU funding under the Erasmus+ programme. Respondents described such years as “the highlight of my time at university” and even “one of the most defining features of my life to date”.
17 January 2017 (The Telegraph)
I am nervous as I take my seat in front of the Head of Languages; it is GCSE choices evening and the school gym has been transformed, criss-crossed by rows of tables and chairs with eager parents and their offspring gathered around harried-looking teachers.
“I'd like to do Triple Language,” I say, “French, Spanish and Italian.”
She regards me over the top of her sheet full of names, in front of her.
“Oh no, I don't think so. You could do Spanish, maybe, but you'll find three too difficult.”
Seven years later and I am on the brink of successfully completing my undergraduate degree in, you guessed it, languages. And whilst I look back on that exchange now with a certain degree of victorious pride, I still can't help but wonder what prompted her to turn a perfectly capable student away from her course.
In this performance-obsessed climate where a pupil's grades are often put before their education, it is unsurprising that even some of the best teachers find themselves advising students against courses which are deemed too challenging. But we must do away with the notion that languages are an elite subject if we are to improve the dire situation in which we now find ourselves.
Posted in: All Languages
, Cultural Diversity
, Language Learning
, Language Learning - Benefits
, Language Learning - Decline
, Language Teaching
, Languages in the press
10 December 2016 (Times Higher Education)
The Brexit vote sent shock waves through the UK’s modern languages community.
Already shaken by the closure of modern languages departments at the universities of Ulster and Northumbria, a continuing downward trend in undergraduate enrolments, and the loss of Higher Education Funding Council for England funding for the Routes Into Languages programme, the vote seemed to many to be symptomatic of a lack of understanding of the value of languages both nationally and internationally.
Part of the problem derives from the widespread misconception that speaking English is enough and that monolingualism is the norm.
6 December 2016 (CEO)
Brexit has raised many questions over the future competitive trading position of Britain in Europe. While the economic impact of the political upheaval still plays out, it is a good time to pause and reflect on the fact that for a long time, UK companies have put themselves at a disadvantage in Europe; perhaps without even realising it. That disadvantage comes from a lack of language skills.
While it’s fair to say that English is the lingua franca of many corporations, it is also true that global companies can enjoy richer, more productive interactions with customers, suppliers, overseas colleagues and partners when they are able to operate within different cultures in different languages.
And while enhancing and improving business relationships is a universally useful endeavor, it would be a mistake to think that language skills in business are a matter of mere social niceties. In fact, they have significant material impact on the bottom line. Mark Herbert at the British Council summed it up nicely when he cited the estimated, “tens of billions in missed trade and business opportunities every year” resulting from the UK’s shortage of language skills.
29 November 2016 (The Guardian)
The Polish prime minister Beata Szydło has called on Theresa May to introduce Polish classes for children in English schools.
It raises interesting questions about what languages we teach in schools and why. Szydło also called for more support for the 831,000 Poles living in Britain. Introducing the language could help communities feel more integrated.
In the past language choices have been for different reasons. In 2010 the government decided to train 1,000 Mandarin teachers to work in secondary schools in England due to China’s increasing influence on the global economy. Those in favour of the move said the next generation would need to understand Chinese culture and use its language.
Which languages do you think children should learn and why? Should an emphasis be put on how useful that language may be in the future? Or should the decision be made based on the needs of the local community?
Which languages have been most or least helpful to you? Which one did you enjoy learning and why? Did you grow up speaking another language at home? How would you have felt if your fellow pupils had studied it in school? Share your views with us.
21 November 2016 (The Independent)
Cambridge, Oxford, Imperial College London, King’s College London and the University of Manchester all ranked highly in terms of graduate employability.
[..] Taking into consideration opinions from 2,500 recruitment managers from international companies in 20 countries around the world, researchers named “professional experience” as the most important factor when predicting a graduate’s employability.
A high degree of specialism, and proficiency in at least two foreign languages were also hailed as important skills favoured by recruiters.
Responding to the results, Vicky Gough, a spokesperson for the British Council, said: “Despite languages being valued by employers the world over – as this latest ranking shows – the UK is currently facing a shortfall in these vital skills."
17 November 2016 (THE)
This week is the British Council’s International Education Week, which promotes the benefits of international learning and cultural exchange.
The UK is a global hub for international students with more than 400,000 studying here last year. Yet British students travelling outside the UK to study is relatively rare, and this is a problem. Just 1.3 per cent of UK students travelled abroad to study or go on work placement in 2014-15.
For graduates to find jobs and succeed in today’s post-Brexit world, they need international and cross-cultural knowledge. It is also critical for the UK’s competitiveness in international markets that the next generation entering the workplace understands how to compete globally.
Employers expect graduates to appreciate cultural diversity, universal business language and be familiar with globalisation. However, in terms of having a global mindset, nearly a quarter of employers (24 per cent) have rated graduates as weak in this area.
17 November 2016 (Huffington Post)
'Language skills matter now more than ever’ - that is the resounding message coming from the British Council’s latest piece of research on language learning in the post-Brexit landscape. But with language uptake low in schools - and the majority of us admitting our own linguistic skills are rusty at best - what can be done to make sure languages get the recognition they deserve as the UK prepares to leave the EU?
Well the good news is that the majority of us recognise the vital role that languages have to play in the current climate. Out of the 2,000 UK adults surveyed by Populus in our new poll for International Education Week, 63 per cent saw the ability to speak other languages as being essential if the country is to remain “outward looking”. 61 per cent said they were more vital than ever if the UK is to remain “open for business” in light of the result of the EU referendum.
16 November 2016 (The Scotsman)
Scotland’s people have, historically, been our greatest asset, making a significant impact both within the UK and abroad. The impact made overseas by Scots has been remarkable given our small population.
The Scottish Government’s own strategy incorporates “the Four Is” s as highest priorities, beginning with “Investing in our people and infrastructure in a sustainable way”. But are we doing enough to unlock the true potential of Scotland and embrace the opportunities that arise, even in a post-Brexit environment?
A critical factor for Scotland will be the ability of its companies and institutions to engage effectively with many new markets. The majority of these sit in Asia and require a special knowledge of practices and customs to ensure success. Since most companies in Scotland are SMEs this means that they need to wake up to the need to create market entry strategies and produce the right products and services to attract both investors and customers or clients.
[..] Learning starts at an early age. The Scotland China Education Network (SCEN) was founded in 2006 by Dr Judith McClure to bring together individuals, national agencies and associations keen to promote the teaching of Chinese language and culture in Scottish schools.
15 November 2016 (British Council)
Language skills are ‘more vital than ever’ if the UK is to remain ‘outward looking’ and ‘open for business’ in the run up to Brexit, new British Council research has revealed.
In a survey of over 2,000 UK adults, the majority saw the ability to speak foreign languages as being essential if the UK is to successfully reach out to other countries (63 per cent) - and guarantee continued trade and investment (61 per cent) – in light of the result of the EU referendum.
Over two thirds of those surveyed (67 per cent) believed that as a country, we currently don’t encourage enough young people in the UK to learn other languages, with a similar number (63 per cent) stating that schools need to make more time than ever before for language learning as the UK prepares to leave the European Union.
4 November 2016 (TESS)
It’s been just over four months since Britain voted to leave the European Union, and we still know very little about how Brexit will affect life in the UK. That is, of course, largely because it will be another few months until the process of the UK’s departure formally starts, and so, really, nothing has actually changed.
That is not to say it won’t, of course.
[..] And as Scotland’s modern language teachers prepare to come together for the Scottish Association of Language Teachers annual conference this week, its chair, Gillian Campbell-Thow, told me that Brexit would “either be a force for great change in the respect that it will give us a massive opportunity to further enhance the need for young people who are culturally aware and can communicate on many levels; or it will be another nail in the coffin to language learning as real life opportunities to work and live in other countries may not be as easy or accessible as they once were.”
Read the full article in TESS online, 4 November 2016 (subscription required).
3 November 2016 (They Work For You)
The motion was raised in the House of Lords on 3 November 2016 that the House takes note of the potential impact of the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union on funding for universities and scientific research.
During the debate, Baroness Garden of Frognal raised the importance of increasing and improving the UK's ability to communicate with the world in languages other than English following withdrawal from the EU.
The full debate can be accessed online.
1 November 2016 (University of Cambridge)
In the fifth of a new series of comment pieces written by linguists at Cambridge, Dr John Gallagher, historian of early modern Europe, argues that Britain should look to its past to rediscover the importance of language learning.
The article also includes links to the previous entries in the series.
21 October 2016 (Reuters)
The European Union's lead Brexit negotiator would like British and EU officials to work in French rather than English during the divorce talks, an EU official familiar with Brussels' Brexit task force told Reuters on Friday.
After the report caused waves during British Prime Minister Theresa May's first EU summit in Brussels, Michel Barnier took to Twitter to deny - in English - having expressed such a view. However, he noted that language rules would be agreed by negotiators only once May launches the formal Brexit process next year.
The source told Reuters that people working with the former French foreign minister understood he would prefer his native tongue. "Barnier wants French to be the working language in Brexit negotiations with Britain," the EU official said.
21 October 2016 (The Guardian)
There has been an outcry this week over minority A-levels that are being cut from the curriculum, with news that archeology and history of art will no longer be offered to sixth-form students.
Suzanne O’Farrell, Curriculum and assessment specialist for the Association of School and College Leaders discussed modern languages.
O’Farrell fell in love with languages at school. She studied French and German at A-level, then at degree level and went on to teach modern languages in schools for 28 years. This year her son started his A-levels but there was no longer an option to study either French or German. Now she’s trying to teach him herself.
SCILT response to ‘Brexit and Languages'
18 October 2016 (SCILT)
The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Modern Languages has launched Brexit and Languages: A checklist for Government negotiators and officials highlighting four essential language-specific objectives of the Brexit process. The APPG on Modern Languages will be presenting the document to the leaders of the main political parties, MPs and Peers.
SCILT welcomes the publication of this document. Fhiona Mackay, Director of SCILT, said: "Now, more than ever, it is vital that we equip Scotland’s children and young people with the necessary skills that will allow them to operate globally.
"This week saw a call from Westminster MPs and peers who form the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Modern Languages for post-Brexit protection for language skills so that the UK can 'succeed as a world leader in free trade and international relations'.
"Scotland has indeed benefitted greatly from the opportunities afforded by Erasmus + funding. It has supported teachers to develop their language skills and has enabled fruitful educational partnerships between Scottish schools and their counterparts in other European countries. The German Educational Trainee programme that SCILT facilitates is made possible largely by Erasmus + funding. Similarly, the British Council Language Assistants have made a huge contribution to Scottish education, as have all the native speaking language teachers across the country who hail originally from other parts of the EU.
"Certainly we need an education system that continues to develop multilingualism, thus guaranteeing the future of the UK’s trade, security, and diplomacy. However, we also need to think about the language of welcome; language skills help build a more open, tolerant and ultimately cohesive society that values all peoples and cultures. That is the kind of Scotland our children and young people deserve."
17 October 2016 (BBC News)
The government must plan now to avoid a post-Brexit languages crisis, say a cross-party group of MPs and peers.
Trade talks after leaving the EU will need more UK officials with language skills, say the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Modern Languages. There is already a languages skills shortage but currently the UK can rely on other EU nationals "to plug the gap", say the group.
Ministers say their reforms are already boosting language learning in schools.
13 October 2016 (University of Cambridge)
In the third of a new series of comment pieces written by linguists at Cambridge, Jocelyn Wyburd, Director of the University’s Language Centre and Chair of the University Council for Modern Languages, argues that Brexit poses an additional threat to language learning in Britain which must be overcome.
Just one of the motivations to vote ‘Leave’ in the UK’s recent EU Referendum was a desire to limit immigration, fuelled by a wide range of issues including strains on jobs and public services, but also by discomfort (verging on fear) about multiculturalism and multilingualism in ‘Anglophone’ Britain.
We heard that Nigel Farage disliked sharing trains with people speaking languages other than English, and shortly before the referendum it was reported that a Muslim woman on a bus had been berated for not speaking English to her son, when she was actually speaking Welsh.
Wales is a proudly bilingual nation which, through its Global Futures strategy is dedicated to promoting language learning and greater cross-cultural understanding. Scotland, meanwhile, has adopted the EU-wide goal of mastery of Mother Tongue plus two languages (where Mother Tongue might be English, Scots or another language). No such goals exist for the UK as a whole or for England, though the Department for Education’s statement of purpose for the teaching of languages in English schools opens with the assertion that “learning a foreign language is a liberation from insularity and provides an opening to other cultures”.
Links to Parts 1 and 2 can also be found on the website.
8 October 2016 (BBC News)
Addressing a serious decline in the number of Welsh pupils learning foreign languages is "urgent" following the Brexit vote, an academic has warned.
There were 700 A-level language entries in 2015 compared with 1,152 in 2009.
A scheme, which sees university students mentoring secondary school pupils, is being extended after making a "clear impact" on class numbers.
Professor Claire Gorrara said the scheme was more important than ever after the Brexit vote.
The Cardiff University professor, who leads the project, said it had led to improvements to the 28 schools involved in the pilot across Wales.
7 October 2016 (University of Cambridge Research)
In the second of a new series of comment pieces written by linguists at Cambridge, Dr Heather Inwood, Lecturer in Modern & Contemporary Chinese Literature and Culture, argues that Britain needs to improve its language skills to build trade relations and break through cultural divides.
Opinion: Brexit and the importance of languages for Britain #1 (University of Cambridge Research, 26 September 2016)
6 October 2016 (The Conversation)
For some time, there have been many stories told of the “crisis” in modern languages in secondary schools and universities. There is hard evidence to support this. Even though there have been upsurges in modern languages provision – following the introduction of the English Baccalaureate for example – pupil numbers continue to fall.
In Wales, where modern languages are still an optional choice at GCSE, research shows that the number of pupils studying a foreign language declined by 44% between 2002 and 2015. The number of pupils taking French in 2015 was less than half those who took it in 2002.
But why are pupils put off taking a language at GCSE level, and how can we improve attitudes to the subjects? As a bilingual country, it seems counter-intuitive that Welsh pupils cannot see the benefits of studying languages. However, research from an engagement project we have recently been running suggests a range of things are influencing pupils’ decisions not to study a language.
The mentoring project saw undergraduate modern language students from four Welsh universities trained to work with year eight and nine pupils (aged 13 and 14) in 28 schools. The students helped the pupils to practice their language, build confidence and knowledge, and teach them how modern languages can aid personal and professional development.
Our work was part of a push by the Welsh government, to arrest and reverse the decline in modern languages study by 2020.
26 September 2016 (University of Edinburgh blog)
There is no better way to celebrate the European Day of Languages than reminding people how good it is to have more than one language in the brain. Multilingualism is a very good investment both for individuals and for societies, but this is not obvious in Scotland and the UK more generally, because of the ‘privileged monolingualism’ of English native speakers. The common perception that “everyone speaks English” makes foreign languages seem irrelevant and leads to lack of incentives to learn languages. Language skills in the UK are falling just as the need for them is growing. According to one estimate, lack of language skills costs the UK economy £48 billion a year.
5 August 2016 (TESS)
We'd be unwise to neglect European MFL post-Brexit. Heather Martin explains why.
Read the full article in TESS online, 5 August 2016, pages 36-37 (subscription required).
2 July 2016 (TES)
Modern foreign languages must be championed – not just by linguists, but by school leaders. Now, more than ever, we need the values of respect that mutual understanding cultivates, this leading educator says.
Put aside the elation/despair (delete as applicable) provoked on a personal level by the referendum result. Let’s take stock, as professionals.
How do we “actively promote” fundamental British values in the context of a more divided polity, where fairness and respect matter more – but evidently counted for less – in the manner of the debate and its aftermath?
The unravelling of Britain’s European engagement offers endless opportunities for teachers of economics and government and politics. Sociologists and geographers, too, will want to get their teeth into the divisions that the referendum has exposed in the British body politic.
Spare a thought, though, for modern foreign languages. What does the referendum and, more importantly the attitudes it articulated and unleashed, say about the value attached to foreign languages?
27 June 2016 (Politico)
Danuta Hübner, the head of the European Parliament’s Constitutional Affairs Committee (AFCO), warned Monday that English will not be one of the European Union’s official languages after Britain leaves the EU.
English is one of the EU’s 24 official languages because the UK identified it as its own official language, Hübner said. But as soon as Britain completes the process to leave the EU, English could lose its status.
“We have a regulation … where every EU country has the right to notify one official language,” Hübner said. “The Irish have notified Gaelic, and the Maltese have notified Maltese, so you have only the UK notifying English.”
“If we don’t have the UK, we don’t have English,” Hübner said.
[..] The Commission has already started using French and German more often in its external communications, as a symbolic move after Britain voted to leave the EU last Thursday, according to the Wall Street Journal.
21 June 2016 (The Guardian)
Leaving the EU could lead to an irreversible decline in foreign language learning, with Britain paying a high economic and cultural price.
17 June 2016 (TESS)
A majority of teachers and other education professionals fear that Scottish education will be damaged if the UK leaves the European Union, an exclusive TESS poll suggests.
The poll highlights fears over languages, exchange trips and loss of key foreign staff.
Read the full article online in TESS, 17 June 2016, page 6-7 (subscription required).
Why making a swift Brexit isn’t best for children's futures
(TES, 17 June 2016) Nicky Morgan, Secretary of State for Education, and former schools minister, Jim Knight, explain why they're not surprised that the majority of teachers want to remain in Europe, echoing the benefits and opportunities for language learners to be supported by native speaking language assistants.
2 June 2016 (TES)
There are few things so depressing about the current schools system as the precipitous decline in languages, writes this veteran education journalist.
If one thing that has saddened me over the past couple of weeks, it is that modern foreign languages has been the first core subject to be axed by a major exam board.
For at least two decades I have campaigned, cajoled and done what I can to persuade the powers that be to do more to promote languages in schools.