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Why we should be worried if students are shunning languages

By Claire Kane, studying Chinese at Oxford University

Our GCSE students have been left tongue-tied as languages drop out of the top ten most popular subjects for the first time.

Fewer students than ever before are taking language GCSEs after Labour made them non-compulsory six years ago. 

And why should they take them? As Brits, we believe the rest of the world speaks English, and often we’re right.

But employers still value languages and a language GCSE is a solid qualification that can help in all jobs.

 No one’s asking our kids to become fluent in Spanish, but a few words here and there can boost their career.

In a work setting, being able to break the ice with foreign customers can make a huge difference to your employment prospects.

Languages make holidays more enjoyable and open kids’ eyes to new cultures and experiences.

Studying languages also teaches kids grammar, something that is neglected by schools and means literacy rates fall.

That’s why the government has promised to review language education and make improvements.

While Polish, Mandarin and Portuguese have become more popular, traditional languages such as French and German are less attractive.

A business survey showed that 50% of employers like people who are able to speak French and 41% of businesses want Spanish speakers.

Four in ten employers are interested in Chinese speakers and some schools now offer exotic languages such as Chinese and Arabic.

But languages are taught too late in this country, with many pupils not starting until they reach secondary school.

Because languages are unfamiliar to students, they find them difficult and drop them before GCSE.

If French was taught from primary school, when kids soak up languages easily, a GCSE would be a piece of cake.

But languages are neglected and it is our students, businesses and economy that will pay the price.

Foreigners who have mastered a few languages are a lot more attractive to employers than Brits who can’t manage more than “‘Allo ‘Allo”.

A third fewer students are taking language GCSEs since Labour made them optional in 2004. We still have no idea how this might affect the country.

The government promises compulsory language learning for 7 to 11-year-olds from 2011. They must stick to this so more pupils take language GCSEs.

Language qualifications guarantee our students will leave school with world-class job opportunities.



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