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What’s the point of learning a language?

In the last few years the number of children learning foreign languages has dropped dramatically. In September 2004, they were removed from the compulsory curriculum for 14 and 15 year olds and since then the numbers taking GCSE languages, such as French and German has declined year on year. In GCSE French there has been a 50% drop in numbers over the last ten years and last year for the first time it fell out of the top ten most popular GCSE subjects.

As well as languages no longer being compulsory there is generally held belief that languages are harder. This could be for a number of reasons.  A study a few years ago showed that marking in languages is often tougher than for, say, GCSE Drama. There was also a perception that language teaching in general was less dynamic.  And if children aren’t engaged in the classroom then they are less likely to sign up for a subject at GCSE level. Schools have been accused of pushing their students down the ‘softer’ exam route to boost their rankings.  As languages were always seen as hard but can now be avoided (unlike compulsory ‘hard’ subjects such as Maths and Science) then there is less incentive for schools to encourage children to take the subjects. The recent coalition Government is trying to crackdown on soft GCSEs introduced by Labour.

But what’s the impact of the drop in uptake of foreign languages? One thing we’re maybe not very good at making clear to children is how important an additional language can be personally but also on a wider level. If we don’t possess the skills to operate on an international level then how do we trade with other countries? Our employers should be making it clear to children, through their relationships with schools, that they need language skills to get jobs and grow companies (furthering their own careers).  We have so many international companies with a presence in the UK that it should be clear how important a further language could be.

Companies need to offer incentives for people who speak foreign languages and make it clear in job adverts that this skill is highly prized. If employers don’t make it clear that these skills are valued then there’s no real reason for children to keep learning a language.  If it’s already seen as a hard subject and then there is no end value to pursuing it then it’s easy to see why children aren’t rushing to sign up. We need to stop feeding the idea that ‘every other country speaks English’ and instead look for ways to communicate in their native tongue.

One way to get children interested in languages is to start young – at 121 Home Tutors we work with children at primary level – in interesting and unusual ways to get them really excited about languages. Once they’ve caught onto the idea that languages can be as interesting as their other subjects then they are more likely to want to keep up with their study at a higher level. And because they love it they then want to know how they could use it in their life or career once they leave school. The answer doesn’t seem to be in making languages compulsory again but rather helping children love languages.

If you’d like some help with primary or GCSE French, German or Spanish language (or Business Studies) tutoring in Manchester and Cheshire (we cover the Heatons, Sale, Wilmslow and Didsbury plus other areas) contact 121 Home Tutors today.

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