The Linguist

The Linguist 58,4 - Aug/Sept 2019

The Linguist is a languages magazine for professional linguists, translators, interpreters, language professionals, language teachers, trainers, students and academics with articles on translation, interpreting, business, government, technology

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16 The Linguist Vol/58 No/4 2019 FEATURES Can we turn the tide for languages? Marion Spöring and Hannah Doughty look to Scotland for answers I f we want to effect a sea-change for languages, policy makers and language advocates need to think and act more strategically. In Scotland, as in the other three UK nations, there are longstanding concerns about the low level of language learning post-14. Twenty years ago, a seminal study analysing the reasons for a decline in language uptake at Higher Grade (the standard post-16 qualification in Scotland) concluded that the main causes were the 'dull' nature of the post- 14 curriculum and the persistent 'climate of negativity' around languages in the media. 1 The researchers also noted that while most pupils were favourably inclined to language learning per se, it did not fit in with their short-term study or work goals. The decline had occurred despite the 1989 'Languages for All' policy, which stipulated that all pupils in secondary schools should study at least one language up to the end of compulsory education (aged 15-16). In 2000, the Scottish Government tasked a Ministerial Working Group on Languages to find ways of revitalising language uptake. There were three key recommendations: 1 To introduce language study no later than Primary 6 (age 10). 2 To have continuous experience of that same language into the first four years of secondary for a minimum of 500 hours. 3 To replace the 'Languages for All' policy with a language study 'entitlement'. Unfortunately, the term 'entitlement' was interpreted by many school leaders to mean 'optional', with languages removed from core post-14 timetables. Furthermore, the requirement to continue with one language for a set period of time led school leaders to concentrate on the main language on offer in secondary schools – French – at the expense of others. Crucially, the perceived non-relevance of language study was not addressed. The result? Despite curriculum reforms, language uptake at Higher and Advanced Higher grades continued to decline, with the notable exception of Spanish (as elsewhere in the UK). In anticipation of a major educational reform (the current 'Curriculum for Excellence') which, among other changes, envisaged reducing the core curriculum period in secondary schools from four to three years, SCILT (Scotland's National Centre for Languages) commissioned a survey of Secondary 3 pupils (ages 13-14) to analyse their attitudes to language learning with regard to their career or life plans. 2 Unsurprisingly, languages were still only considered relevant if pupils' future plans included travel or working abroad and, for many, this seemed a long way off. An ambitious policy With languages in the doldrums, even language advocates were surprised when the Scottish Government, led by the Scottish National Party, in 2011 introduced a language policy based on the aims of the Barcelona Agreement of 2001. This stipulated that all European citizens should be able to speak two languages in addition to their mother tongue by the time they leave formal education. In Scotland, the so-called 1+2 approach envisages that by 2021 every pupil will have the opportunity to learn two languages in addition to their mother tongue. Pupils would start their first additional language in Primary 1 (ages 4-5) and their second additional language no later than Primary 5 (ages 8-9). Since 2012, dedicated funds have been made available to support the implementation of this policy, in particular to upskill primary school teachers in languages and language pedagogy. Although it was recognised that universities (specifically those training primary practitioners) would need to adapt their programmes accordingly, no national strategy was put in place to deal with this key aspect. Again, the concern about short-term relevance to pupils' lives was not fully considered. Thus, in 2013, with limited funds, SCILT piloted four initiatives to address this gap, three of which were based on the Routes into Languages funding programme in England and Wales. The following year, SCILT started a collaboration with UCMLS (the University Council for Modern Languages in Scotland) to maximise the impact of these initiatives: 1 Business Brunches. An opportunity for pupils aged 14-15 to meet with and hear from employers who value language skills. The objective was to highlight the vocational relevance of languages to pupils just as they were deciding whether to continue with language study. 2 Language Linking Global Thinking. An initiative linking university students on their year abroad with classes in upper primary or lower secondary. A major aim is to address learners' fears and anxieties about studying abroad, and to highlight the many positive benefits of languages for later life and work. 3 Mother Tongue Other Tongue. A poetry competition aimed at highlighting the The Scottish model

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