Emphasise fun in language, not jobs;Letter

19th March 1999 at 00:00
Peter Downes' article (TES, March 5) interested me for a number of reasons.

As a post-graduate certificate in education student specialising in French at Leeds University, I am particularly concerned about the position of modern languages in the national curriculum, not merely as a prospective job-seeker. Foreign language learning and speaking contribute to my enjoyment of life. What I lament the most is that many teachers, parents and professional bodies fail to promote the benefits that foreign language skills can bring in a social context as well as in a vocational one.

I am working on a study on the changing attitudes to foreign language learning and teaching since 1900, and have found a constant theme running through people's opinions. Comprehensive school pupils I interviewed between years 8 and 11 feel that the language they retain most effectively is taught creatively through songs, performance, play and real communication. Respondents from earlier generations - those who had been subjected to a dictation and translation-based approach - feel that now they remember little of these lessons, apart from the songs.

Another common view among pupils is that a prime reason to obtain modern language skills is to improve career prospects. Practice ought to mirror this. At a presentation recently given by a group of enthusiastic General national vocational qualification students, I was alarmed to be told that their course contained no statutory element of foreign language learning.

The benefits of foreign language skills in the job market are real but emphasised by teachers in a misguided attempt to motivate them. I find it hard to believe that pupils, as young as years 8 and 9 really regard their careers as a consideration which demands much thought at the present stage of their lives.

What ought to play a more prominent role in promoting foreign language learning is the potential for enjoyment and self-improvement. This is what is more likely to result in pupils' desire to continue learning after formal education.

Sally Fairfax 70 Harold Terrace Leeds

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