Currently, in England, foreign languages are only compulsory subjects from ages 7-14 (from 2010) and while all schools offer foreign languages at secondary school, not all schools make them compulsory at GCSE level (ages 14-16). This is in spite of all the recent economic crises, and unemployment rises that indicate that being able to speak another language, and so work in Europe (and South America), is possibly the most useful skill you can have. What I am arguing is, why is a language such a highly valued subject? Yes, if you get a job in France, being able to speak French is helpful and polite. But the fact remains that most people you meet will actually speak to you in English.
Firstly, English is the first and national language of just a few countries in the E.U. (England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland- approx. 60 million speakers). German is the official language in five countries (Germany, Austria, Luxembourg, Switzerland and Liechtenstein- approx. 90 million speakers). However, the official language of the E.U. is English, despite the fact that almost 30 million more people speak German. Any international meeting will usually be held in English, even if none of the people there are English. This is because it is an internationally learnt language which a massive percentage of the world population can speak to a very good level. I think that these are clear facts that should spell out quite simply: we should both drop language completely in schools and spend more time on maths, science and English. OR, we should make them compulsory throughout the whole of school-life and we should make the learning of them important.
I currently study GCSE German, and recently took a trip to Bonn in Germany to stay with a German family and attempt to increase my understanding of their language. However, within a couple of days it was clear to see that my German was of a completely different level to their English, and we spent the rest of the week speaking in English. Not only was this slightly de-meaning, not being able to speak to them in their language in their own country, but it also felt disrespectful. All of us on the trip thought that if we could have at least attempted some of the language, we would have had a better experience.
Learning a language gives you important communication, interpretation and confidence skills, vital for the workplace. It is also usually quite a fun subject even if you find it difficult because it gives you a chance to appreciate other cultures, visit other countries and make friends. Foreign languages are also a good subject for children who find science and maths hard. It gives them another option.
England has dominated a lot of world history and influenced many countries and cultures in the western and eastern world. England conquered much of the world during the 19th centuries and this meant that they all had to learn English. This is why English is such a widely spoken language. However with the increase in Chinese and Japanese business and trading, maybe the English could benefit from learning these languages. Also, Brazil and other parts of South America are doing a lot of business with the western world. Perhaps learning Portuguese or Spanish would also be beneficial.
I think that learning a language should be compulsory throughout the whole of a student’s school life, including primary school and GCSE. It can be enjoyable and is definitely an important skill to have, even if you don’t speak the language, because it increases confidence and communication skills. It is important that we don’t rely on the perfect English of most Europeans.
I think the Government needs to introduce new schemes that make learning a new language enjoyable and not ‘pointless’. The government need to understand that school children aren’t going to want to learn a language if they aren’t kept interested with it. I think it is vital that the next generation of English students learn to speak at least one foreign language fluently and confidently, otherwise we will become a nation completely reliant on others.