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Blame for languages

While Dick Johnstone and Robert McKinstry may well be responsible for many developments in modern languages in Scotland, including inspiring me to become a principal teacher, I believe your anonymous correspondent last week was mistaken in blaming them for the appalling state of foreign language learning in local authority schools here.

The blame lies rather with those who have developed the secondary school system into its current state of third-rate mediocrity overall.

Languages are perhaps only the most obvious symptom of that. Learning a foreign language in a school situation is difficult indeed and requires a number of things which have been progressively eliminated in Scottish education: for instance, a sound grasp of basic grammar, as one's native language is the most important tool for all learning.

That is not all: the necessity to learn a body of material by heart; the need for a pupil to concentrate for a period of time and participate mentally in a lesson even when not being asked something directly; the requirement to complete regular homework tasks on time; the possibility of pupils being told they have failed and to do something about it; and, finally, the separation of pupils into ability groupings which are as homogeneous as possible.

Other countries use such practices and reach levels of success undreamt of in our introverted Scotland.

Bill Cooper Highfield Circle, Kinross

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