'Languages are lucrative'

Pupils go for MFL studies after hearing about their earning power. Nicola Porter reports

Young people view modern foreign languages as more of a sexy option after learning of their earning power, it has been claimed.

Schools taking part in a new programme promoting languages report soaring numbers of key stage 4 pupils opting to take French, German and Spanish.

And Ceri James, director of CILT Cymru, Wales's national centre for languages, said the results were proof that Wales's language decline is not inevitable.

Almost 80 per cent of Welsh schools involved in the Compact project have reported a rise in interest in languages, particularly among boys, a key target group.

CILT Cymru is providing grant aid and hands-on support to help schools reverse a decline in MFL take-up as part of the strategy.

At present 12 individual schools have joined the scheme, with Neath Port Talbot becoming the first local education authority to sign up this term.

Participating schools share good practice, with an emphasis on promoting future career opportunities and the potential for big salaries to pupils.

Mr James said too many young people still did not realise the benefits of learning a language, with many school-leavers returning to them via adult education and looking to double their salaries.

Ceri James, director of CILT Cymru, said: "If children canJsee the exciting experiences of people who have taken a language and are having a great time in their jobs, or studies, they are more likely to take them at GCSE and above.

"We have loads of businesses giving talks to young people and telling them of the opportunities available to them by taking languages. And in the schools we have been to it there has been an uptake.JIn the past languages have been seen as too difficult and classroom based."

CILT Cymru now hopes to develop vocational language learning on an authority-wide basis. The most recent figures (2005) suggest the decline in entry numbers for modern foreign language GCSE and A-level exams may be "bottoming out".

A-level entries have stayed the same at 1,300 for the past three years, and the rate of decline at GCSE has slowed. However, the subject area is the only one in Wales to have fewer exam entries in 2005 than in 1992.

And the rise in the GCSE pass rate at A*-C grades, from 57 per cent in 1996 to 78 per cent last year, has invited criticism that languages are taken only by the most academically able students.

Schools have tried to boost the subject with ideas such as the chance to conduct an online interview with Arsenal goalkeeper Jens Lehmam in German, learning Flamenco dancing in Spanish, and trying to destroy made-in-Japan computers, using some graphic Japanese phrases.

Jane Davidson, Wales's education, lifelong learning and skills minister, believes the roll-out of the Welsh baccalaureate (which has a compulsory but unaccredited language module) and the expansion of vocational and other options under the 14-19 learning pathways reforms will make languages more accessible to a wider ability range.

The Assembly government is launching a review of its "languages count"

strategy, and developing a new skills-based curriculum, due out in September 2008.

* The WJEC, the Welsh exams board, has appointed a Japanese subject officer to reflect demand for the language from industry. It is estimated there are more than 500 foreign-owned firms now operating in Wales.

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