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Modern languages need 'national recovery programme', say MPs

Foreign language teaching needs to undergo a “national recovery programme” as the economy risks losing £48 billion a year due to a lack of linguistic skills, a new report says.

In its Manifesto for Languages document, a group of MPs and peers has called for all political parties to make a commitment to high-quality language learning from age 7, and for every child to have a good language qualification by the end of secondary education.

Action also needs to be taken to address the growing image of language learning as an “elite” activity, which is the preserve of private schools, it says.

Politicians should also “actively encourage” businesses and employers to become involved in tackling the crisis through tax breaks for those investing in language training, it adds.

They also need to make a commitment to “maintaining and developing UK expertise in modern languages and cultures in university language departments".

The document, from the All Party Parliamentary Group on Languages, says the global competitiveness of the UK can only be addressed if the reputation of its citizens as poor linguists is "transformed."

The document, which asks all political parties to make a commitment to improving language learning in their election manifestos, comes as primary schools across England prepare for the mandatory provision of languages at Key Stage 2, starting this September.

Meanwhile, a report in March this year found a quarter of primary schools still lacked a member of staff with anything more than a GCSE qualification in a modern foreign language.

More than a quarter of secondary schools said that they excluded pupils from languages at Key Stage 3 in order to give them support in other areas, such as literacy or numeracy. 

The manifesto, which has been presented to the heads of all main political parties, is backed by 50 businesses, organisations and universities, including HSBC and UBS banks, the British Chambers of Commerce, the British Academy, the British Council, and the heads’ unions ASCL and the NAHT. 

Baroness Coussins, chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Modern Languages, said: “The next government will need to take clear, urgent and coherent action to upgrade the UK’s foreign language skills.

“Otherwise our young people will continue to fall behind their European and global peers in education and employability; our export growth will be stunted; our international reputation will suffer and our security, defence and diplomacy needs will be compromised."

And she stressed that it was not just a case of highflyers missing out, as large numbers of clerical and admin jobs required language skills.

Dr Adam Marshall, executive director of policy at the British Chambers of Commerce, added: “For too long, the UK has had a poor reputation for linguistic ability. To nurture the next generation of exporters, more young people need to learn a broader range of languages, and start learning languages from an earlier age.”

The report added that languages are not well supported in the education system, with only 9 per cent of English 15-year-olds competent in their first foreign language beyond basic level, compared to 42 per cent across 14 countries.

Meanwhile, A-level numbers have been falling in some languages, with entries for French and German dropping by 10 per cent in a single year. Since 2000, 44 universities have closed language degrees, the manifesto says.


Related stories:

Quarter of primaries have no modern language expertise - March 2014

Modern languages "going the same way as Latin and Greek" - March 2014

Ebac kickstarts languages revival - August 2013


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