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Why language learning is in freefall Watch

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    (Original post by Nuts 'N bolts)
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    Oh god,with regret I would have to say I would agree with you. Having just finished my equivalent to GCSE (Scottish Standard Grade) in French, I would have to say that even up here the course is abysmal. As much as I would love to have been a bi-linguist, over the last few years French has been the bane of my education. And I find it quite ridiculous that coming out of 5 years of french lessons, I now cannot speak a continual sentence in it that is relatively complex.
    I feel that it is due to the lessons being made to pass the exam, and not actually learn anything about the culture and the language itself. It's quite ridiculous
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    I've just finished my GCSEs in French, Spanish (and Latin) and I have to say that GCSE modern languages are a joke. They don't teach you anything. Fortunately, an absolutely fantastic teacher of French in year 7 sparked my interest in modern languages and I absolutely love them. I have gone way above the syllabus and this is the only reason I can understand some of the French/Spanish on tv/magazines. Having said this, modern languages aren't dull and monotonous, if you enjoy them you enjoy them. To get people who don't like them so much fluent in more than English you have to start young, for example with foreign kids tv shows on CBBC. Another reason why people don't take them is because they aren't like maths and science. Becoming fluent takes years of solid work and you can't just swat and learn facts and figures before the exam like maths and science enable students to do. Finally, schools actively promote science and maths and don't encourage modern languages which is so stupid because the UK is swiftly going to plummet when English isn't the only major language.
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    (Original post by Alludeen1)
    I've just finished my GCSEs in French, Spanish (and Latin) and I have to say that GCSE modern languages are a joke. They don't teach you anything. Fortunately, an absolutely fantastic teacher of French in year 7 sparked my interest in modern languages and I absolutely love them. I have gone way above the syllabus and this is the only reason I can understand some of the French/Spanish on tv/magazines. Having said this, modern languages aren't dull and monotonous, if you enjoy them you enjoy them. To get people who don't like them so much fluent in more than English you have to start young, for example with foreign kids tv shows on CBBC. Another reason why people don't take them is because they aren't like maths and science. Becoming fluent takes years of solid work and you can't just swat and learn facts and figures before the exam like maths and science enable students to do. Finally, schools actively promote science and maths and don't encourage modern languages which is so stupid because the UK is swiftly going to plummet when English isn't the only major language.
    Good for you.....but Science and Maths also take lots of hard work
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    I really wish I could speak French and German but I chose not to take it (French) at GCSE just because of what you mentioned as the lessons weren't great - All my mates that did pick it said it was horrendous and I don't think many of them can even speak much anyway - I'll learn it my own ways, such as watching French TV shows for example.

    I love languages and I hate our education system for teaching it so badly :sigh:
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    The mantra of students towards languages is "What's the point? Everyone speaks English." which is thrown back at anyone anytime they try to defend French, German, Italian or Spanish.

    Irish is the most popular language at my school. The simple reason for this is we are immersed in the Irish culture: we all play GAA, some of us speak Irish at home, the school has Irish roots and many people go to the Gaeltacht every summer. (Irish language classes/ school). There is none of this for French or Spanish or German, only the most dedicated students will take it upon themselves to read foreign periodicals, look at the news in a foreign language or try and speak the language outside of school.

    The next most popular language is Spanish, with 3 classes and after that, 1 class of French. There'll be 2 A-Level Irish classes, 1 Spanish class of 22 and 1 French class of 4. A lot of people only take Spanish or French at GCSE because they have to take at least one language and if they've no interest in Irish, will pick Spanish because "it's cooler", there's no genuine interest in the language, just the grade at the end.

    Furthermore, the examination of modern languages lends itself to people hating the language. 60% of the GCSE requires no knowledge of the language whatsoever! You do 2 writing exams, wherein you scribble out one page from material you've been given, give it your teacher so they can edit.it to make it A/A* standard, before learning it off without having a clue what you're saying. It's the same with orals, you learn this gibberish and go in and reel it off to your teacher in a room where you don't have any eye contact with them and have no idea what you're spewing out. Then comes the readings and the listenings - the only necessity of which is learning lots of vocab. The only time grammar is truly needed is the latter questions, but by that stage you've already got enough marks for an A/A*.There's nothing in the exam about properly writing from scratch, nothing about understanding grammar and nothing about the culture of the country. There needs to be a real rethink of how modern languages are taught in schools if they really want to see numbers increasing.

    Fini.
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    (Original post by emma2013)
    This year there were all of 5 people of out 183 in my year taking German
    I'm the only one taking Advanced Higher (A2 standard) German this year.
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    (Original post by Nuts 'N bolts)
    Every year at this time the media and a few experts appear baffled and confused as to why every year less and less students are taking languages. They largely blame either arrogance on the part of British people (to assume everyone speaks English) or that it was making languages no longer compulsory back in 04. However it seems that none of these people are capable of waking up and smelling the coffee; learning a language in the UK is rubbish and the fact that numbers have free falled since it was no longer compusory says it all, teenager don't want to do it.


    Now when I was in school a few years back I had to take a GCSE in a modern foreign language (in my case French which I got a B in) and at the end of it far from being able to speak French I felt like I had wasted 2 years and that I never wanted to learn french ever again. The course itself is an absolute stinker full of all sorts of fluff that if totally useless in a conversation and by the end all a student can do is parrot learned phrases. Now if you do take a GCSE then you would have been studying that language for 4-5 years and if you can't even hold a basic conversation after that amount of time that honestly what was the point in doing it at all?


    The way we are taught is completely wrong, kids are taught too late (languages ideally need to start in primary school) and when they get to secondary school they are taught in a dull, boring way which just switches kids off. There's hardly anything interesting taught about the culture the language comes from and all the lessons can be boiled down into memory tests: this week remember colours, next remember animals etc. Sometimes the lessons are forced into 2 hour blocks due to timetabling which is absolutely hopeless and many kids (like myself) are/were just not interested enough to do anything outside of the classroom which is key to remembering and understanding.

    Ultimately young people have no interest in taking languages and why would they? It's dull, difficult, unfufilling and not rewarding in the slightest.


    Now admittedly if English is your first language it's a double edged sword, on the one hand it's great: you already speak a global language. On the other hand you are less likely to learn another. Why? because there is less impetus to, learning a second language is not a necessity the way it is in other countries but also we're not saturated in foreign language media the same way the rest of the world is exposed to hollywood films and english language music etc.


    I've even spoken to a few people who when travelling abroad tried to shakily ask locals questions in their native tongue only to get replies back in near perfect english which is disheartening. One of the things people will find abroad is that people want to speak to you in english to help improve their own.
    Finally people abroad in non english speaking countries are all learning one language and because of that there's always going to be people to practice inside and outside school be it friends or family. In the UK because we are learning many different ones because we have the choice it is much harder to find people who you can practice with especially as many adults are monolingual, there's no one to practice with at home.

    With the system so broken it will take a long time to fix things and here a few things that I think need to change

    --> Teach languages at an earlier age
    --> Make language teaching more fun with greater focus on holding a conversation
    --> Encourage adults to learn a second language so their children have someone to practice with at home
    --> Offer a greater range of languages to study
    --> Teach more about the culture that these languages come from


    I'd really like to hear what everyone else thinks about on this topic!
    I definitely agree with you here. It is sad when every year you see the amount of people doing language A-levels and degrees dropping, but the job prospects aren't really that great afterwards, which in a recession puts people off. You could go into teaching or Interpreting, but companies often want someone who is from that country. And as for teaching, you would've spent years studying literature at uni in that foreign language, and would have to spend the rest of your days teaching teenagers how to say the very basics, and describe what colour their eyes and hair are. Also with the internet increasingly doing more complex things many people have less need of translating via a company, and can have it done online for much cheaper. I know that Google translate right now is not the most accurate at all, but just think of what it could be like in a few years time... they could be putting a lot of people out of business.I know a woman who runs an interpreting company who is greatly struggling- customers are asking for ridiculously low prices, as they are also finding business hard. I think languages are taught so badly (at least in some state schools) and all you need is a bad teacher and suddenly any pupil she ever teaches can be put off for life. This happened in my GCSE year at school, and literally out of a year group of 180 pupils only 3 wanted to take French A-level, and they all had private tutors anyway. We also had no choice of what language we studied- you were just randomly allocated, so some people ended up doing German when they were really keen on Spanish, for example. Furthermore, we were taught German for 1 HOUR A WEEK! The teacher was ill/off a lot so we could go a month without any actual German lessons! How can you expect anyone to make proper progress with that astonishingly low amount of teaching. I think languages should start in Primary school with the basics, such as colours, numbers and simple conversation. That way when they enter Secondary school they can focus more on more complex things such as past and future, and won't have to waste up to year 9 teaching kids how to say hello and I have a dog. (Yes, I was not taught any grammar or past/future tenses until GCSE... It was just boring simple statements like I have a bed. It is big. No wonder many people didn't take it for GCSE!) As you said the system will take a long time to get fixed, and if the Government aren't happy with the statistics then some big changes will need to be made. Also, once people get older many have such hectic and busy lives that learning a new language is just almost impossible as they don't have time, and many might also feel that there is no need to learn it anyway.
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    (Original post by Memetics)
    Oh god,with regret I would have to say I would agree with you. Having just finished my equivalent to GCSE (Scottish Standard Grade) in French, I would have to say that even up here the course is abysmal. As much as I would love to have been a bi-linguist, over the last few years French has been the bane of my education. And I find it quite ridiculous that coming out of 5 years of french lessons, I now cannot speak a continual sentence in it that is relatively complex.
    I feel that it is due to the lessons being made to pass the exam, and not actually learn anything about the culture and the language itself. It's quite ridiculous
    Sad to say, but it's only marginally better at Higher. It's just an extended version of 'ma ville, ma famille, etc, etc'. I'm taking both AH German and French this year, and luckily the course seems to improve, although I shall be the only pupil in my school taking German and there will be 2-3 of us doing French. Did you know that only around 120 pupils across Scotland took AH German in 2012? Things are in such a sorry state of affairs. I also think the problem lies in pupils not even being grammatically aware in English. The other pupils in my Higher German class struggled a lot with the grammar, but it's an upward challenge to make them understand noun cases and the like when they don't even know what the function of a verb is in English.
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    (Original post by Alludeen1)
    I've just finished my GCSEs in French, Spanish (and Latin) and I have to say that GCSE modern languages are a joke. They don't teach you anything. Fortunately, an absolutely fantastic teacher of French in year 7 sparked my interest in modern languages and I absolutely love them. I have gone way above the syllabus and this is the only reason I can understand some of the French/Spanish on tv/magazines. Having said this, modern languages aren't dull and monotonous, if you enjoy them you enjoy them. To get people who don't like them so much fluent in more than English you have to start young, for example with foreign kids tv shows on CBBC. Another reason why people don't take them is because they aren't like maths and science. Becoming fluent takes years of solid work and you can't just swat and learn facts and figures before the exam like maths and science enable students to do. Finally, schools actively promote science and maths and don't encourage modern languages which is so stupid because the UK is swiftly going to plummet when English isn't the only major language.
    Hahaha wow, someone sounds bitter. Did you even continue studying maths and science beyond the compulsory level? Whether you like it or not, english is going to remain the major language long enough for current science students to walk straight into a secure job. Scientists will always be in demand.
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    I definitely think there needs to be changes. Teenagers aren't taught to have any passion for the languages, they're simply taught to pass an exam - and at the end of it, what do you have?! You can't even say a few sentences to a native speaker with any sort of confidence.

    In my GCSE Spanish classes, we learn the same useless grammar again and again. We learn the words for 'health' and 'poverty' and whatnot, but we can't communicate or hold conversations.

    We learn nothing about culture, and no passion is really ignited in students. People stop caring, because they see the lessons as irrelevant and tedious.

    I wish that I was enjoying my Spanish lessons and becoming good at speaking and communicating, but in 4 years of having 3 hours per week, I know pretty much nothing. I'm going into Year 11, and dreading Spanish class.

    No wonder people aren't taking languages to A-level - I'm certainly not going to.
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    (Original post by Alludeen1)
    I've just finished my GCSEs in French, Spanish (and Latin) and I have to say that GCSE modern languages are a joke. They don't teach you anything. Fortunately, an absolutely fantastic teacher of French in year 7 sparked my interest in modern languages and I absolutely love them. I have gone way above the syllabus and this is the only reason I can understand some of the French/Spanish on tv/magazines. Having said this, modern languages aren't dull and monotonous, if you enjoy them you enjoy them. To get people who don't like them so much fluent in more than English you have to start young, for example with foreign kids tv shows on CBBC. Another reason why people don't take them is because they aren't like maths and science. Becoming fluent takes years of solid work and you can't just swat and learn facts and figures before the exam like maths and science enable students to do. Finally, schools actively promote science and maths and don't encourage modern languages which is so stupid because the UK is swiftly going to plummet when English isn't the only major language.
    The problem with languages is that they are a great additional skill, but on there own they don't improve your employability much i.e. if you are an engineer who is fluent in several languages you are a real asset, but if you just have the language skills and no other specialism you are anywhere near as useful.

    Also, the sour grapes about maths and science don't help. The uncomfortable truth is that the knowledge and skills you gain from studying those subject has a tangible value in the job market ahead of many other areas.
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    (Original post by emma2013)
    When I went on a german exchange in AS year, I could ask them what they thought of wind turbines and nuclear power, but when I needed to ask for a spoon (because I cant eat spaghetti without embarassing myself) I was completely stuck and made some retarded mime with my fork.
    And this was the product of 6 years of learning it.
    Ha exactly! That's the problem with language learning in the UK, it's less practical and focuses on fewer day to day things. I only learned the word Löffel when I worked at a hotel in Germany, barely used it during A-Levels so couldn't think of it quickly. However, words I'd barely use in every day German like Krankenversicherung and Arbeitslösigkeit are hammered into our brains. Crazy.
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    A lot of English people seem to think that learning a foreign language is pointless because 'they all speak English abroad anyway'. This is perhaps true in major holiday destinations/resorts but I have found that even in the French countryside it is relatively rare for somebody to speak fluent English. I went to Russia recently and only met one person that spoke fluent English.

    Conversely, in Denmark I found that people spoke foreign languages so fluently that a book fair I went to sold English, German, French and Danish books. These were not even books intended as an aid to learning languages, for the most part they were just novels or history books. I think that it is more important to learn a foreign language in Denmark than it is in England (Danish has never been spread across the globe and the population of Denmark is relatively small) but there are undoubtedly lessons to be learned.

    One of the most important factors is that a large percentage of Denmark's television and film is imported (a large percentage is from Britain and America) as are video games and music. This means that there is constant exposure to other languages and students have a real reason to want to increase their understanding. In England people seem reluctant to watch a subtitled French or German film. If learning a language could become more culture based then it would provide an incentive for the student. For example, if French lessons involved watching French films and TV and reading French literature rather than learning lists of animals and learning to say "Can I have a ham sandwich and a coke please?".
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    Coz we need 2 keep britan about british! if immigrants want 2 come here they should learn OUR language not the other way round! english is the best way to speak so we dont want that immigrant rubbish in our country!
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    (Original post by yepyepyep)
    Hahaha wow, someone sounds bitter. Did you even continue studying maths and science beyond the compulsory level? Whether you like it or not, english is going to remain the major language long enough for current science students to walk straight into a secure job. Scientists will always be in demand.
    No I'm not saying maths and science don't take hard work, just that its easier to swat before a science/maths exam because its all in a textbook, the same isn't for modern languages. I understand that they are just as hard just easier to prepare for imo. And btw, I'm among the top in science/maths at my school (a highly performing private school), so I'm not bitter (Im also doing Chemistry at A level). There is so much competition for science related degrees at uni nowadays and this will be reflected in the inbalance of sciences to humanities. If I stick with languages and become fluent in several, there will be so many doors open for me and I will be in greater demand.

    Can I just say, private schools generally allow a greater freedom of choice in career, whereas at state schools there are usually (NOT ALWAYS) restrictive blocks and some modern language departments may seriously lack in any umph there due to the school pushing for specialist ict and maths status for example? (Some private schools have pretty bad ml departments too of course.)
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    In my college the German department was shut down several years ago due to lack of interest. I had to teach myself German AS and A2 and take it as a private candidate in an external college (had to pay a considerable amount for that, too).

    Last year one of the two Spanish teachers was made redundant due to a massive decrease in language students (from four AS classes and four A2 classes to just two of each). There was just one AS and one A2 class for French. My Spanish class had about 3 other non-native students apart from me, the rest were natives who spoke Spanish at home and were probably just looking for an "easy" A level to do.

    My teacher was desperate to get my Spanish class to promote languages on the open days. But nobody seems to want to do it. There seems to be the attitude that in order to learn languages you have to be a genius. When I tell people I did A levels in two languages I always get the same reply "wow, you must be a genius". Err no. It just takes a bit of effort, just like any subject.

    It's really depressing that learning foreign languages is in such a decline in this country. Go to any other European country and it's almost 100% guaranteed that school kids learn at least one foreign language (generally English) up till they leave, and a lot of the time it's actually two (this is what I've heard from people living in Sweden, Germany, France, Poland and Spain).

    The government needs to sort this bull**** out. Make learning languages obligatory again. It's pitiful.
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    (Original post by ladymarshmallow)
    Sad to say, but it's only marginally better at Higher. It's just an extended version of 'ma ville, ma famille, etc, etc'. I'm taking both AH German and French this year, and luckily the course seems to improve, although I shall be the only pupil in my school taking German and there will be 2-3 of us doing French. Did you know that only around 120 pupils across Scotland took AH German in 2012? Things are in such a sorry state of affairs. I also think the problem lies in pupils not even being grammatically aware in English. The other pupils in my Higher German class struggled a lot with the grammar, but it's an upward challenge to make them understand noun cases and the like when they don't even know what the function of a verb is in English.
    I know. I'm really sad. I picked a language because I was genuinely interested in furthering myself and becoming a broader individual in a society that is quite narrow-minded when it comes to foreign affairs.
    You are obviously naturally talented to be able to make it to AH in both languages, but, as you know, you are part of a small minority. Most of those like me are put of by the dry course. Its a shocking statistic for a course like German, especially when you compare it to subjects like math and biology for example, and just as , if not more important than those subjects in everyday life.
    And I get where you are coming from with the lack of understanding of basic English grammar, you can tell just be listening to some people at my school tbh haha

    (And again, well done on becoming a multi-linguist, your very sought after today )
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    (Original post by llys)
    I agree with these.

    And funny that you mentioned "colours" and "animals": I was just thinking myself that those are prime examples of useless words. :laugh: I will never understand why they are taught to children. Children should FIRST be taught the 2000 words most frequently used in conversation; we have a very good idea of what those words are, so there is simply no excuse for making children rote-learn useless words before they are even able to hold a conversation!
    I think colours are useful in a real life situation and I suppose animals are taught because it's a bit more interesting than the contents of your pencil case etc.
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    Becuase there is google translate
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    (Original post by Alludeen1)
    No I'm not saying maths and science don't take hard work, just that its easier to swat before a science/maths exam because its all in a textbook, the same isn't for modern languages. I understand that they are just as hard just easier to prepare for imo. And btw, I'm among the top in science/maths at my school (a highly performing private school), so I'm not bitter (Im also doing Chemistry at A level). There is so much competition for science related degrees at uni nowadays and this will be reflected in the inbalance of sciences to humanities. If I stick with languages and become fluent in several, there will be so many doors open for me and I will be in greater demand.

    Can I just say, private schools generally allow a greater freedom of choice in career, whereas at state schools there are usually (NOT ALWAYS) restrictive blocks and some modern language departments may seriously lack in any umph there due to the school pushing for specialist ict and maths status for example? (Some private schools have pretty bad ml departments too of course.)
    No it's not. You have to have a thorough understanding of how things work and actually be able to apply that to a question. Sure at GCSE memorising worked but then GCSE papers don't have synoptic questions. Also, when you reach A2 you don't have your AS textbooks anymore, you are expected to remember what you covered at AS level. There is more competition for science degrees you're right, but this is mostly for medicine, natural sciences, forensics etc. Pure sciences are still fairly easy to get onto a course for at a good uni. Modern language degrees are too in great demand, and I think you've done well to choose to study languages. I'm by no means one of the people who thinks language are pointless, I just disagreed with your comments about science.
    I wouldn't really know if the language department at my school was particularly bad in comparison to other departments to be honest. The school I attended when I chose my GCSE's was pretty much failing in all areas, having said that languages were taught pretty horrifically. So few people chose to study languages that most of the courses were dropped, this is probably expected in a special measures state school though.
    Also, I don't know if this is relevant, but I can honestly say I've never met a language teacher who wasn't clearly insane.
 
 
 
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