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Letters Extra: More "oh la la", less 'plume de ma tante'

The final comment of your leader that language lessons need more "oh la la" and less "plume de ma tante" (June 11, 2004)nbsp;is not the sort of intelligent insight I would expect from a serious educational publication.

Yes, I am sure there are problems with language teaching, yet I would like to raise very briefly a few points. I have been teaching languages for over 20 years and have always advocated languages for all. If we as a nation are to take an active and valuable part in the 21st century modern world, then we must become more open-minded to, and tolerant of, other cultures and views. Modern languages play a vital role in this process.

Languages are not an easy option for students. There is no doubt that they find it difficult. Mistakes that are not penalised in English, are frowned upon by the exam boards. No other subject is taught in such a teacher-centred way, requiring students to concentrate and fit together a complex linguistic jigsaw - it is not possible to survive on native wit until you have developed a good level of competence.

I agree wholeheartedly that the exam specificatons are uninspiring. At GCSE they lack interest and do not match student maturity. At A-level they are dry and expect students to understand issues that politicians struggle to deal with.

Unlike our European counterparts there is no extrinsic motivation, such as popular culture. We do not even have any role models, apart from Gary Lineker, who can show the value of learning a foreign language.

It is time that those in the positions that carry clout worked actively to promote the case for languages. That means the Government, leaders in industry and educational leaders. It is far too easy to take a cheap swipe at language teachers, who, in my experience, are enthusiastic and work very hard to enthuse young people. Are language lessons the only lessons that are boring?
David Elliott

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