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Plain speaking?

MODERN language teachers are confused and they are not alone. Nicol Stephen, the Deputy Minister, has written to local authorities to explain the national position on language learning following the recent report, Citizens of a Multilingual World, and the initial ministerial response, left many unclear what policy-makers were driving at. His letter remains ambiguous and the entitlement to learn a language has been shrouded in obfuscation. That is not surprising since language teachers are themselves divided over ways to improve the nation's facility with other tongues.

Resources also come into it and a considerable time delay if the message being sent is that more language learning should switch to primaries. Blocked learning in secondaries would cause equal difficulties.

It was clear compulsory languages were on their way out - a position now adopted south of the border - but ministers, their advisers and the language lobby appear to want it both ways. No compulsion, yet more language learning in a more flexible curriculum with more innovation. Not unexpectedly, many headteachers believed this signalled a fresh approach and have not been disappointed if many language refusniks in S3 and S4 fell away. They can hardly be blamed. Now they are told they will have to justify changes to the curriculum to the HMI and be prepared to take the flak. Confused or what?

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