The decline of languages in schools and universities

Every year at the end of August we see the TV and papers flood with news about GCSEs and A levels, with arguments for and against the tests and people always complaining about how easy they are getting. Of course, languages are always at the top of the list.

So, when a friend sent me a link to an article titled, Who still wants to learn languages?, I was surprised. “Again another article about how easy languages are GCSEs are getting”. However this article goes beyond the August results and talks about the problems languages are facing everywhere, even at university level.

Due to the crisis and cost cutting some universities are cutting down on the language courses they offer. It seems that when money is low, languages are one of the first to go.

Is language learning really in decline?

However, leaving aside the obvious cross-cultural relation building, brain developing, family links building advantages and others for bilingualism, there are business reasons to keep languages alive. There is more and more need for language skills in the business world. Although, in my opinion, we should be careful and not generalize. Knowing a language alone is probably not going to help you get a better paid job. But having a skill set and knowing a language is going to broaden the possibilities for you. For instance, an aeronautical engineer with French may well have more chances working for one of the French owned companies making planes in Bristol.
In the Guardian article the author gives a few reasons why some languages are losing out, German is too hard, learning a language is a long term thing and people want results here and now, among them. I agree with her, most people want results quickly and learning a language once you are a teenager or adult means that you probably have to go through the grammar, vocabulary list, learning type of route.

But the article is not all gloom and doom, Aida lights a candle at the end of the tunnel by means a piece of information, namely primary schools introducing compulsory languages in 2011. Well, that sounds nice, doesn’t it? Of course, as the supporters of this scheme tells us that if you introduce languages to a younger audience they will learn to love them even sooner. Well, that theory is debatable, it depends on many factors, do you like your teacher? is your teacher a person who makes people love language? Are you being bullied in school? Is your school one of those where teachers have to spend more time keeping order than teaching?, etc

Baby on Skype

Yesterday we had our first session on Skype with granny’s new computer. It’s actually not HER computer, but her neighbour’s computer. You see, when there is a baby involved people are prepared to go the extra mile!

Anyway, our first session went well. Cameras worked, voice worked, internet worked. It was only about five minutes on Skype, but granny sure enjoyed seeing her little new grandchild life on a screen.

At the moment M doesn’t pay much attention to the screen. For her the keyboard is a new thing to play with, and from time to time she’s also amused by the sounds and the image coming from the screen. But I’m happy that I’m maximizing her exposure to her mother tongue through these sessions, and eventually she’ll grow to appreciate those moments spent talking online with granny from Spain.