Should learning a language be compulsory?

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Saracen's Fez
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#1
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#1
Should learning a(nother) language be a compulsory part of the national curriculum?

The current situation
The current national curricula in the UK require:
– In England: a modern foreign language must be studied in Key Stages 2 and 3 (generally ages 7 to 14).
– In Wales and Northern Ireland: a modern foreign language must be studied in Key Stage 3 (generally ages 11 to 14). (In Wales Welsh must be taught in pre-school settings and throughout compulsory schooling to the age of 16.)
– In Scotland: the new curriculum introduces a '2+1' model, where pupils study one additional language from P1 to S5 (generally ages 5 to 17), and a further language from P5 to S3 (generally ages 9 to 15), and these may be Gaelic or modern foreign languages.

In a world where English is becoming increasingly widely spoken and relied on for international communication, is there a place for compulsory language learning in UK schools, which teach English as a matter of course, or should foreign languages be something just for those people who are interested?

NB: This isn't really a question about the teaching of national minority languages (e.g. Welsh, Scottish Gaelic and Irish in their respective nations): that is a separate (and much more nakedly political) issue, unless the point is relevant to general issues around language teaching.

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Last edited by Saracen's Fez; 1 month ago
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thrivingfrog
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In my school, I could drop French when I chose my GCSEs and I did. I know people from other schools who had to pick a language. (This is in England btw)

I personally don't feel at any disadvantage to those who have been taught another language and I know that some people who had to do a language GCSE despised it.

On the other hand, I understand the importance of learning languages as it helps us to connect with people from all over the world and breaks down societal language barriers. I also know that some people do enjoy learning languages in their own time and as part of the curriculum.

To answer the question, I think that learning languages should be compulsory for some part of education but not all, giving students the freedom to decide whether they want to learn a specific language or not. I think that the current situation surrounding language learning in English schools should continue with students learning a language in KS2 /3, and that every school should offer the choice for a student to take a language in Key Stage 4, but they should not be forced to take a language at all if they don't choose to.
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ran-dumb
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#3
Unless you love a certain country for some reason you're not going to care enough to actually learn it, the most you can realistically get from it is the occasional holiday which you don't even need to learn a language for. You could also move there I suppose but I don't think anyone would make it their life goal to move to *insert country* at GCSE.
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londonmyst
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No- I think that foreign languages should not be compulsory for any primary school or secondary school aged students.

Should shift the emphasis onto teaching everyone at school things like: basic first aid, food hygiene, laws covering social media & the internet, budgeting, simple financial management and how to make adequate provisions for illness/old age/sudden tax bills/funerals/special events like weddings or christenings.
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gjd800
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#5
There's a lot to be said for learning one early doors and the increased brain plasticity and subsequent correlation to improved performance in other areas (especially maths).

To GSCE level, I'm not sure. I hated French and I hated my French teacher, but I did well in it and my French is still pretty good. I think on the whole it is super beneficial with not too many drawbacks.
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Blue_Cow
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I wish I carried on my French language lessons from early primary school onwards. Unfortunately, the exam-driven nature of the teaching ruined MFL for me going into secondary school and I dunno, I just lost motivation.
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StriderHort
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#7
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#7
Sure, I hate kids.

Being serious, i think still yes. It was a shocker to me getting older how many of my foreign friends spoke their native = English as a basic. But I think there still has to be some choices, they tried force feeding me French in primary school and i've always somewhat unfairly loathed the country since.
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Spelunker
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#8
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in my school we actually had to learn 2 languages (french and german) from year 6 to year 9 and then had to drop one and take one for GCSE. i agree that having a compulsory language to learn can seem unnecessary to students, especially if they know they are not going to need this language anywhere in their future. personally, i started to hate french all through GCSE because it would get in the way of my other work and i found it hard to maintain a good grade. I still think learning a language should be encouraged in schools though because it is a great skill and it can be fun if taught right. i've done french for 13 years (though i guess primary school hardly counts...) and even though im not fluent in it now that im done with it i still find myself transalting sentences i see in french or trying to understand french television just for fun! so maybe keeping language learning compulsory but removing the test/examination side of it would put less pressure on people and make learning the language more enjoyable.
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iL1L
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#9
I really value being able to speak and understand multiple languages, but I am an arty and language-y person. That said, science is compulsory. Helpful, maybe in some ways more useful, but the younger you are, the easier it is to pick languages up, and people may be glad they have those skills in later life. So I think people should, but I could understand that some might not want to.
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Saracen's Fez
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As I alluded to when I wrote the OP, in the English-speaking world we're in a position where there isn't really an obvious language that people need to learn en masse, because even if people don't speak it natively, they're taught English, the language of international communication, anyway.

So while there isn't a need for mass teaching of a particular language for communication purposes, plenty of pupils will find themselves wanting or needing to learn a particular language at some point in their lives.

This is where I think the justification for retaining compulsory MFLs somewhere in the curriculum comes from: when you learn a foreign language, you don't just learn to speak the language; you also learn how to learn a language. That's a transferable skill that people can apply in their lives to other languages if they find themselves learning them.

So there's a case for the mass teaching of, say, French in schools, not necessarily because everyone should leave school speaking some French, but because everyone should leave school having had experience of language-learning as a thing.
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sufys
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(Original post by londonmyst)
No- I think that foreign languages should not be compulsory for any primary school or secondary school aged students.

Should shift the emphasis onto teaching everyone at school things like: basic first aid, food hygiene, laws covering social media & the internet, budgeting, simple financial management and how to make adequate provisions for illness/old age/sudden tax bills/funerals/special events like weddings or christenings.
PRSOM. I definitely don't think foreign languages should be compulsory. In the world we live in today, learning foreign languages isn't particularly important.
I would happily take the opportunity to learn how to deal with money, first aid, and quite a few other things over language learning.
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CatusStarbright
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I certainly think that all children should be given the opportunity to learn another language in schools, so making it compulsory in primary schools ensures that younger children do get that opportunity (where before the primary school may not have bothered).

However, certainly at GCSE level, it should become optional. I remember being the school year where there was the 'Ebacc scare', with the result that many of my peers who should never have taken GCSE French did. The result was disrupted lessons (from people who didn't really have the correct motivation to be there) and - presumably - a poorer average result.
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artful_lounger
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(Original post by sufys)
PRSOM. I definitely don't think foreign languages should be compulsory. In the world we live in today, learning foreign languages isn't particularly important.
I would happily take the opportunity to learn how to deal with money, first aid, and quite a few other things over language learning.
If one had the transferable skills from learning a language it would not actually be that hard to learn the other skills...which do not largely require guided tuition, just the ability to judge sources of information critically.

Also first aid training is largely pointless because unless you continue doing the courses your qualification will expire and it'll be a giant waste of money and time for all involved. The world doesn't need more first aiders and businesses have no problem training designated first aiders when necessary.

These kinds of suggestions come up all the kind when any kind of school academic topic is up for discussion (be it maths, science, English, languages, etc) and they are always exactly the same and remarkably shortsighted in the same way too.

School doesn't exist to teach you how to function in day to day life. It exists to give you the critical thinking and research skills necessary for you to go out and learn that by yourself. Just like how university doesn't exist to teach you how to do a job, it exists to give you the transferable skills that you can go into any generalist role and be able to figure it out.

Not to mention, these kinds of things do exist in the national curriculum already - all the PSHE/citizenship crap that we were forced to do exists for this reason. What makes you think it'll be any better and any more useful than it is now, by cutting teaching in other areas? Better to just dump those time wastes of lessons in "citizenship" where you doss around for an hour and have them do some actual studying...

(Original post by Saracen's Fez)
Should learning a(nother) language be a compulsory part of the national curriculum?

The current situation
The current national curricula in the UK require:
– In England: a modern foreign language must be studied in Key Stages 2 and 3 (generally ages 7 to 14).
– In Wales and Northern Ireland: a modern foreign language must be studied in Key Stage 3 (generally ages 11 to 14). (In Wales Welsh must be taught in pre-school settings and throughout compulsory schooling to the age of 16.)
– In Scotland: the new curriculum introduces a '2+1' model, where pupils study one additional language from P1 to S5 (generally ages 5 to 17), and a further language from P5 to S3 (generally ages 9 to 15), and these may be Gaelic or modern foreign languages.

In a world where English is becoming increasingly widely spoken and relied on for international communication, is there a place for compulsory language learning in UK schools, which teach English as a matter of course, or should foreign languages be something just for those people who are interested?

NB: This isn't really a question about the teaching of national minority languages (e.g. Welsh, Scottish Gaelic and Irish in their respective nations): that is a separate (and much more nakedly political) issue, unless the point is relevant to general issues around language teaching.

More curriculum conversations like this
This thread is one of a series of Curriculum Conversations happening on :tsr: in July. If you would like to receive notifications for more of these, click here and tick the box.
In any case, I am in two minds about this. As above, it's a good opportunity as it's a perfect age for language learning, and simply learning a language to a high level makes it much easier to learn subsequent ones, with no detriment to those who choose never to use the target language again or study any further languages.

However I'm also aware I was "forced" to do languages in school (by my parent and subsequently the IB curriculum) and I absolutely loathed all my language study up until IB and even then was somewhat ambivalent about it. If it were not for that experience I maybe would've been more likely to go down the languages route that I am on now much earlier, since as it turns out I do actually enjoy learning languages when I am doing it for myself.

Just like how everyone hated Latin back in the grammar school days because they "had" to learn it, compulsory language education (in fact all forms of compulsory education) has a tendency to provoke strong negative reactions and may lead to negative experiences. Of course, that could be said of just about any subject and I'm not advocating we give up on educating children entirely so, I guess if they have to study anyway, languages would be a good thing to include.
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sufys
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#14
(Original post by artful_lounger)
If one had the transferable skills from learning a language it would not actually be that hard to learn the other skills...which do not largely require guided tuition, just the ability to judge sources of information critically.

Also first aid training is largely pointless because unless you continue doing the courses your qualification will expire and it'll be a giant waste of money and time for all involved. The world doesn't need more first aiders and businesses have no problem training designated first aiders when necessary.

These kinds of suggestions come up all the kind when any kind of school academic topic is up for discussion (be it maths, science, English, languages, etc) and they are always exactly the same and remarkably shortsighted in the same way too.

School doesn't exist to teach you how to function in day to day life. It exists to give you the critical thinking and research skills necessary for you to go out and learn that by yourself. Just like how university doesn't exist to teach you how to do a job, it exists to give you the transferable skills that you can go into any generalist role and be able to figure it out.

Not to mention, these kinds of things do exist in the national curriculum already - all the PSHE/citizenship crap that we were forced to do exists for this reason. What makes you think it'll be any better
and any more useful than it is now, by cutting teaching in other areas? Better to just dump those time wastes of lessons in "citizenship" where you doss around for an hour and have them do some actual studying...
PSHE is more interesting than half my lessons. I wouldn't mind more of it (or something equivalent), and I wouldn't mind cutting teaching in other areas for it.

I think one of the skills that schools should teach us to a decent level is... dealing with money!
A transferable skill that allows you to go into any generalist role and know what you're doing with your money...

It'd be useful!
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Huzam001
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In this day and age, where everyone has a smartphone in their pocket and can simply google up a translation, and with English being such a far-reaching language, there simply is no reason for languages being taught at GCSE, aside from those that want it as an option.
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Talkative Toad
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#16
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#16
I think that it should be compulsory from the moment you start school (reception, excluding those who have learning difficulties and/or English isn't their first language) but then you shouldn't under any circumstances be made to take a language at GCSE level and beyond (sick of schools forcing people to do MFL as a GCSE aka learning MFL and having to do an exam on it because the student is quote "academic").

I do not like the current system. I think that 7 years old is too late of an age to make learning a language complusory and I don't like the fact that teachers are then allowed to drag their pupils into doing GCSE MFL. Pretty sure that most of the kids in my GCSE French class did not want to be in the lesson (even the academic/smart one's) they couldn't drop it until Y11... Pointless. Would prefer pupils to start learning an MFL earlier and being able to drop it earlier.
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1secondsofvamps
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I think languages should be taught from an earlier age, or at least have some sort of exposure to it.
During my teacher training year, I never had the opportunity to teach MFL because I specialised in the younger years, where it's not compulsory within the National Curriculum.
Saying that, I do know some primary schools where pupils from EYFS and KS1 are exposed to MFL in some way, and even ancient languages like Latin.
I personally adore learning languages and think it should be more accessible. The same could be said for BSL (British Sign Language), it's something I would love to incorporate into the curriculum.
But realistically, it's just not possible to fit everything we deem as "important" into the curriculum.
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1secondsofvamps
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(Original post by Huzam001)
In this day and age, where everyone has a smartphone in their pocket and can simply google up a translation, and with English being such a far-reaching language, there simply is no reason for languages being taught at GCSE, aside from those that want it as an option.
With that logic, the same could be said for maths. Why learn maths when smartphones have calculators?
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Foxehh
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#19
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#19
No... its all well and good until you have a bad teacher or learning difficulties/differences. I took mandarin for 3 years and never managed to get the hang of it. It was embarrassing and killed my academic confidence.
And as others have said even students who 'get' other languages will end up losing it if they dont particularly care about it- which most wont, if they're being forced into it. Dont see the point.
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Foxehh
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#20
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#20
(Original post by 1secondsofvamps)
With that logic, the same could be said for maths. Why learn maths when smartphones have calculators?
At least with maths, you still need to understand basic formulas for many things. You can have an array of numbers and a device to find an output but they mean nothing if you cant tell the device what to do with said numbers, to get the output you want.
Meanwhile you dont need to know anything but your own language to use Google translate.
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