The Linguist

The Linguist 51,6

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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SPEAK TO THE FUTURE Regular updates on the campaign for languages FIND OUT MORE �� ISTOCKPHOTO See for the latest about the campaign or to get involved. We���re also on Twitter @speak2future, LinkedIn (search for us in ���groups���) and Facebook ( Worst in Europe? Bernardette Holmes calls for stronger language skills in England In June, the European Commission published the results of the first European Survey on Language Competences (ESLC).1 It came as no surprise that, of the 14 countries surveyed, England appeared bottom of the table, with only nine percent of 14-15 year-olds able to use their first foreign language to the level of an independent user. Before we attempt to assuage our collective national embarrassment by any suggestion that the goal of being an ���independent user��� is overly ambitious for our school-age learners, the Council of Europe���s definition is ���to be able to deal with straightforward, familiar matters��� in the language of study. The average across the 14 countries was 42 percent, with Sweden and Malta reaching 82 percent and the Netherlands 66 percent. France was rather lower on 14 percent. The results don���t get any better when we look at the statistics for those reaching the level of ���a basic user who can use very simple language with support���. Thirty percent of our students failed to reach even this level after three compulsory years of language study in our state-maintained secondary schools. Sympathetic readers may be tempted to exonerate our students and teachers by 6 The Linguist retreating to the fallback position that, as English is the language of choice across Europe, and, indeed, much of the world, it would be invidious to compare our standards of language proficiency with others��� learning of English. It is this very lack of urgency and low level of public engagement with the importance of language skills that we must challenge if we are to have any chance of developing and maintaining our international status politically, economically and culturally. The economic case for languages has never been more convincing. Reports from the CBI (Confederation of British Industry), the British Chambers of Commerce and the Education and Employers Taskforce confirm both the deep dissatisfaction of employers over the paucity of language competence and the urgent need for language skills. Former Treasury Economic Adviser, James Foreman-Peck, has calculated the effects of underinvestment in language skills, which he now terms ���the tax on trade���, and estimates the annual loss to be ��7.3 billion or 0.5 percent of GDP (gross domestic product).2 Yet students from state and independent schools appear to be shying away from language study in Higher Education. Perhaps DECEMBER/JANUARY anxiety over the costs of the additional year of study required by an undergraduate course in languages, together with the swingeing impact of the rising cost of student fees overall is taking its toll on UCAS applications, but the decline is alarming. The 11.2 percent decrease in applications for European Languages and related studies this year was disturbing enough; more worrying still was the dramatic drop of 21.5 percent in applications for non-European languages and related studies. With the business community clearly calling for a wider range of language skills to promote economic growth in non-European markets, the move away from Chinese and Arabic seems hard to reconcile. Our understandable national preoccupation with economic recovery should not obscure the other equally valid reasons for promoting the essential value of language learning in its own right. Sir Adam Roberts, President of the British Academy, urges us to broaden ���our national conversation��� and consider the inherent merits and contribution of humanities and social sciences to our society. It seems incontrovertible that we need to preserve and strengthen the ability of researchers to read original sources in the language in which they were written. Plainly, in a country renowned for its world-class research capability in these fields, we need to ���maintain this strong position��� [and] attract and retain the very best to our undergraduate programmes.���3 So, what must be done? If we are to address issues of supply, we need more language learners in schools and in Further and Higher Education. The introduction, in 2014, of languages from the age of seven could be a positive step. Equally, the impact of the EBacc appears to have reversed the decline in students continuing with language study post-14. In 2010, only 22 percent of Year 10 students (ages 14-15) were studying what are now deemed to be the rigorously academic core subjects included in the EBacc.

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