Critic who steals our language

13th April 2001 at 01:00
So the argument that languages are needed for economic success is flawed, says Helen Vandevelde ("Not such a simple business" TES Modern Languages Curriculum Special, March 9).

Ms Vandevelde has been described as "the leading UK authority on the future of work" so we must take her comments seriously. And yet her article, rather than presenting an authoritative reassessment of the scene, shows all the hallmarks of an opportunist engaging in provocative knockabout, ridiculing one position in order to distract attention from the thinness of her own argument.

She resoundingly dismisses the report of the Nuffield languages inquiry, which, she claims, "served up the reheated left-overs of decades of ineffective campaigning" but then proceeds to "borrow" the report's argument. We can see that:

* she deplores the dominance of French;

* she recognises that languages such as Mandarin Chinese will become more important;

* she argues that employes will buy the language skills they need;

* she urges young people to take account of the market value of languages and says that teachers should make sure they do;

* she stresses the importance of learning how to learn a language;

* she argues for more independent learning; and * she calls for better information on careers options.

Every one of these arguments is in the Nuffield report but this is not acknowledged in the article.

While we need the fresh thinking of writers such as Ms Vandevelde, we do not need the unseemly and abusive point-scoring to which she stoops.

It may make better copy to accuse Nuffield of representing self-serving interests, but one cannot help but wonder if Ms Vandevelde's own career would be better served by a more overt display of the honest thinking she calls for so loudly in her article.

Alan Moys


Nuffield languages inquiry

28 Bedford Square

London WC1

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