Don't close off a whole new world

22nd November 2002 at 00:00
When I was at school, we all had to study Latin, Greek, English and French. Later, when I grew up, I went on exchange trips and summer holidays in France and Britain.

These experiences aroused my interest in foreign languages and helped me to understand my own language better. In the end, I was grateful that we had had to learn these languages, which later gave me a flying start in my professional career.

The survey in this issue of The TES shows a continuing decline in language learning in British schools, which is threatening the disappearance of the culture of language learning and intercultural dialogue from school life. To learn a foreign language is more than learning words and grammar, you discover a new world. Do schools have the right to close this world to younger generations?

Flexibility, mobility and the ability to communicate are skills which are vital for any career. Anyone who wants to succeed in today's global job market must be able to understand the motivation of a business partner and communicate his or her own interests.

Good language teaching provides these skills. As surveys by the University of Bangor have shown, graduates with language skills find a good job more quickly than those of all other subjects, with the exception of medicine. And, if I may allow myself one more statistic, an analysis of job offers in British newspapers makes clear which language is most in demand among British employers: German is top of the wish-list.

This is not to deny the importance of English as an internationally-used language. English is certainly sufficient to buy goods but is it always enough to sell them abroad?

France and Germany are introducing language teaching from the first year of primary school; the British Government is planning to introduce language learning in primary schools from 2012, and similar developments can be noted in other European countries.

Languages are not an end in themselves. They are vital for mutual understanding and for personal development in a globalised world. In today's Europe, language teaching must be an integral part of every curriculum.

Thomas Matussek is the German ambassador to the UK

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