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Language aid in crisis

THOUSANDS OF incomers settling in Glasgow are on waiting lists for classes run by the English for Speakers of Other Languages service, which is struggling to cope with demand.

A Scottish Executive consultation, on A Strategy for Scotland's Languages, paints a picture of ESOL services under severe pressure from the influx of asylum-seekers, refugees and migrant workers. More than 100 different languages are spoken in the city's school playgrounds.

ESOL, the city council's translation and interpreting service, has the highest volume of demand for languages services in the UK, with more than 30,000 requests a year. By comparison, Birmingham has 3,500 and Nottingham 9,619.

In 2004-05, almost 9,000 people required ESOL support, but only 2,543 could be catered for. The council admits that the situation has got even worse due to insufficient funding.

The Scottish Council for Development and Industry reports that only 18 per cent of those who would benefit from ESOL provision are receiving it, and calls for private sector bodies to help plug the gap.

Meanwhile, the Scottish Further Education Network for Modern Languages say of the consultation: "Initiatives described under the heading of 'language learning' only refer to the school sector. Yet, for a national languages strategy to be effective, it must address all education sectors as well as the business sector.

"The lack of focus on post-school education has been a contributing factor to the decline in language provision in further and higher education."

The network adds that Higher National certificates, diplomas in tourism, and other qualifications with a business or international dimension, have "completely relegated language study to the option column or, in some cases, removed language study completely".

Students should also be able to access discrete language units while studying for any HN qualification, in the same way as non-native speakers of English are able to access funded ESOL provision, says the network.

Glasgow's Central College of Commerce and Glasgow Caledonian University say that, in subject areas such as tourism and business, or where there is an exchange to another country, languages must be an entry requirement and a core element of the course itself.

They say: "This is certainly the case in Europe, and we are relying on our European counterparts to speak English wherever we lack skills. This is not equality of opportunity it is denial of opportunity. Many key jobs insist on language ability, and students from other countries, where language learning is highly valued, will be better placed to fill vacancies."

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