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Language shake-up targets next generation of learners

The Scottish Executive will unveil an action plan for modern languages in March.

Jack McConnell, the Education Minister, broke the news on Monday when he launched the European Year of Languages in Scotland and signalled the firmest endorsement yet of the conclusions of the Mulgrew action group on modern languages.

Attempting a few words of French, Mr McConnell said the acquisition of languages skills was important for building confidence in individuals as well as for increasing their chances of employment and meeting the skills required by businesses. He also stressed the importance of language learning as more and more people find work in other countries.

Mr McConnell promised "a fresh impetus" for schools to build on the Mulgrew recommendations. An action plan would be produced, capable of being implemented immediately, "so that the next generation of Scots are more able to communicate in other languages than my generation was".

Executive support was promised for a range of projects being established as part of the European Year of Languages, which is being officially launched in Sweden next month by the European Union and the Council of Europe.

The Mulgrew action group recommended a series of changes to the teaching of languages and the training of teachers in both primary and secondary schools. If accepted, they will involve a shake-up in the school curriculum and in the teacher education institutions.

The Executive, in the wake of the costly teachers' settlement, will be scrutinising the Mulgrew report with care, particularly implicaions for additional teachers and more teacher training. The report also recommended a new innovation and training fund of up to pound;10 million aimed at improving "motivation, language proficiency and post-16 uptake", which the committee regards as a key recommendation.

Mr McConnell has, however, already given an undertaking (TESS, December 15) that "if we expect teachers to deliver quality language education, they must be given the tools and support necessary". He promised that revised 5-14 guidelines on modern languages would not be implemented in full without further training and support.

The launch in Stirling heard Sylvia Vlaeminck of the European Commission challenge the notion that not everyone can learn a foreign language. "All that is necessary is for people to want to learn a language and to find ways of doing it."

Joe Sheils from the Council of Europe acknowledged that Britain had a particular problem in having speakers of a worldwide language. But he cautioned against complacency: even Internet traffic, which was 80 per cent conducted in English a few years ago, was now down to 50 per cent.

Professor Joe Lo Bianco, chief executive of Language Australia, pointed to the dangers posed by globalisation to the more fragile of the world's estimated 6,809 languages - only 3 per cent of which are in Europe.

In Australia, 45 per cent of final-year school students now take a language other than English, the highest ever figure. The main languages taken are Japanese, Italian, French, Chinese, Indonesian and Korean.

Leader, page 20

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