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French and German get a non and nein

Closer European union has done nothing to promote French and German in school, new research concludes. In fact, attitudes to language learning are in "chronic decline".

French and German are the least popular subjects on the curriculum. Pupils find them difficult and of little value, says the unpublished study, sponsored by the Economic and Social Research Council.

The findings reinforce a Stirling University study, reported in The TESS earlier this year, which stated: "The expression 'Standard grade is crap' was echoed in various discussions."

The courses were considered by the pupils to be "intellectually humiliating and lacking instimulation ... and quite often infantile".

The study questions the wisdom of five years of compulsory languages. The authors also criticise schools that teach whole lessons entirely in a foreign tongue.

"Unfortunately modern languages are not rated highly for their usefulness and are seen as among the least enjoyable subjects by many pupils, particularly boys," say Andrew Stables of Bath University and Felicity Wikeley of London University's Institute of Education .

Taking 10 schools in the west of England, the researchers compared pupils' attitudes in 199697 with the views of similar students in 199495.

"It might have been hoped that changes in curriculum and teaching approaches would have increased pupils' interest in modern languages by 199697,"the report says. "However, the findings are disappointing. In 1996 both boys and girls placed French and German equal bottom in terms of liking alongside RE, and in the boys' case, music."

Only 8 per cent placed a modern language among their three most enjoyable subjects. Eighteen boys and 12 girls out of 127 Year 9s expressed a desire to drop languages - more than double the response to maths or science, the next least popular subjects.

The authors believe languages are hindered because pupils find them difficult and do not think they are useful.

Brian Wilson, the Scottish Education Minister, promised last November to launch an awareness campaign to persuade young people of "the tremendous life-benefits of multilingualism".

He told the Council of Ministers in Brussels: "I think the best witnesses to the benefits of being able to communicate in more than one language are those who can speak from practical experience - from footballers to war correspondents - and I hope to enlist them in the campaign."

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