Chinese and Arabic to be taught in UK schools?

According to British Education Secretary, Alan Johnson, UK schools should have more flexibility in the choice of languages they teach. He believes “it is right to vary the curriculum to add languages which might be economically useful or help community cohesion.” The languages he’s talking about include Arabic, Mandarin and Urdu.

I wonder where they will find enough teachers and how they will fit the extra languages into an already over-stuffed curriculum. Since the foreign languages were made optional in UK schools after the age of 14, the numbers of pupils studying them has fallen dramatically. The government worries about this and keeps on coming up with ways to try to encourage more kids to continue learning languages.

I’ve met numerous people who tell me they studied French, German, Spanish or whatever language at school, but who have since forgotten it completely, or only remember bits and pieces. This seems to suggest that language teaching in schools is not entirely effective.

Learning any language is a good thing, even if it isn’t ‘economically useful’. Learning a language spoken in the area where you live is perhaps better in some ways than learning a language perceived as ‘economically useful’ because you will be able to use it regularly. You will probably also learn something about the culture of those who speak the language and come to understand and appreciate it more, which is what Mr Johnson means by ‘community cohesion’.

Sources: and The Guardian

Quote of the day: “Happiness comes from wanting what you get, rather than getting what you want.” from the Carpetblogger.

This entry was posted in Education, Language.

9 Responses to Chinese and Arabic to be taught in UK schools?

  1. AR says:

    I don’t think languages can be learned well enough for even basic usage at schools. At my high school, each student is required to have two years of a foreign language (Spanish, French, German, Latin, or Ancient Greek). It seems, the majority of the students just take the bare minimum for all subjects and that foreign language is tailored to the little knowledge that students are willing to acquire. Only those who take several more years of foreign language extending into college are the ones who can really say, “I learned whatever language at school.”. Unless schools are willing to immerse all their students in a language for at least ten years (as some schools are doing with Mandarin, Spanish, or French), I think that diversifying the languages taught at schools is in vain; a couple years of a language and then forgetting it is not affected by what language is learned.

  2. Polly says:

    My wife took French is HS. She knows how to say “thank you” and “me, too.” THat’s it. Other than myself, I don’t know anyone who benefitted from high school language instruction.

    I now realize tha I’m a fluke. I reached 4th year Spanish in 3 years and I can honestly say that the Spanish I know today (which was enough for me to converse over the phone with a complete stranger in Chile), is mainly due to my schooling. And this is without having been interested in that particular language to begin with. So, it’s a mystery. I do agree that one shoudl study a language they’re going to use over choosing one that, in theory, will be economically more advantageous. We are not all globe-hopping corporate executives. Sometimes, economic advantage may be found in getting a discount on your coffee and donuts at the local donut shop.

  3. Chibi says:

    I think that the fact that language is a requirement somehow automatically inhibits kids from actually learning the language (not completely inhibit, but in most cases). Not to mention the horrendous way in which languages are taught (at least around here)…i.e. strict memorization of vocabulary lists, and maybe a lesson in grammar every once in a while, if we’re lucky.

    In my German classes (that bored me for 4 years, may I add), we didn’t actually even had to start *speaking* until 11th grade (this year, for me, but I skipped the 4th level), and we all started in 7th grade.

    And not to mention that a lot of the things we learn in language classes are considered to be “standard” versions of the language, and hardly any _____ speakers speak the “standard” version of their language! (Not that it becomes totally useless, though, and in fact, probably has some advantages, like being able to communicate with essentially most people whose native language is ______)

    I personally can’t understand why very few people at my school actually truly want to learn other languages: many people drop language after the required 1 year, and probably around 90-95% of the kids still in a language class are doing it because it’s a requirement for most colleges. And then probably around 90-95% of the kids who take multiple languages are taking a second or third language purely because it looks good on college applications. No pure interest in the languages (of course, there are no interesting or exotic languages taught…Spanish, French, German, Italian, Latin, Japanese, Mandarin…most people take Spanish or French, and the ones who take Italian are almost exclusively the Italians-but-don’t-speak-a-word-of-it, and the ones who take Japanese are obsessed with anime. No really interesting languages, like Finnish or Irish, but this is understandable because they aren’t “useful” *cries*)

  4. Alain Vaillancourt says:

    I’m surprised nobody mentioned immersion classes in the very first years of schooling as a way to really learn foreign languages.

  5. Ben L. says:

    In an ideal world, all children would be given the benefit of mixed-language curriculum.

  6. BnB says:

    I suspect that no matter how effective language instruction is in or out of school, if you don’t use it you lose it… Clearly the better drilled in it is, the easier it is to recover later, but I don’t think most schools emphasize actual use enough for that (and immersion may be the only answer).

    My two cents (worth no more than that, to be sure… 🙂 )

  7. Joe says:

    Well, Chibi, interesting is a personal opinion; I find all the ones you mentioned really interesting, with the exception of maybe Spanish, which because of three years of godawful high school curriculum has been tarnished for me (even though I know I need to learn it)

    For the record though, I think Irish and Finnish are also really interesting; but then my problem is I have yet to find a language I don’t like!

    As for me, I didn’t even realize my passion for languages until late in my senior year of high school, and this was two years after I had dropped Spanish, once I had achieved the minimum requirements. I actually was forced to take Spanish I twice. I had a year of Spanish in 8th grade, but my school district mandated you take Spanish for two years in middle school for it to count as Spanish I, so I had to repeat it again in 9th grade with a horrible teacher who probably made my Spanish worse. By 10th grade although my teacher was good and she really tried, by then the classes were just a nuisance. What happened particularly with Spanish is that everyone took it, because they considered it the “easy” language as opposed to French and German. This still happens in universities here, where Spanish I and Spanish II are full of people who just want to get the requirement over with, so I decided on French, which led to a minor in the language and I can actually communicate in it.

    I still find that individual incentive turns out to be the best, but then it’s sort of like anything taught in schools. Not many kids know what it is they like until they get exposed to it. On the flip side though, it seems the way languages are taught right now turns more people off them than it encourages them to continue the pursuit of studying them further.

  8. Polly says:

    I didn’t realize that I liked languages in general until college. I was always interested in Russian and German in high school. I started learning Russian on my own with a single, Teach yourself Russian book by Michael Frewin. It was pretty comprehensive.

    In my experience, instant apllicability in everyday life wins out over internal motivation. Although, I took 1 year of German in college purely for FUN, today I can hardly put a sentence together. But, I can converse (haltingly) in Spanish, even though I only took it in high school by default, because they didn’t offer any of the lang’s I was interested in.
    So, as much as I like Finnish or Zulu, I know my efforts would probably be better spent on Tagalog, since so many around me speak it.
    Funny, because before I started to work here, I didn’t even know what “Tagalog” was. Meaning that I didn’t even know it was a language, and if it was, it sounded made up: like “Tag-a-log” some kind of code-dialogue. But, now, I start the workdays off with a “Sige” or “magandang umaga.”

  9. New Zealand Coffee Lover says:

    In an ideal world, Amharic will be as useful as German.

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