How to harness the untapped pool of linguists

15th March 1996 at 00:00
We refer to recent articles concerning the scope for developing languages other than French in schools (in particular, "Shortages prolong supremacy of French", TES, February 2).

In 1988, just before the drive to diversify language provision, the National Foundation for Educational Research conducted a survey of teachers' skills in languages other than French. It, too, identified a substantial pool of teachers (386 in 750 schools) who were qualified on paper to teach German, Spanish, Italian or Russian. This figure, projected nationally, suggested a pool of about 2,500 not using their language in 1988. (The TESCentre for Information on Language Teaching and Research survey estimates about 3,500 currently, and this higher figure may reflect the success of drives to diversify language teaching in the intervening years.) Crucially, however, the 1988 survey also looked at teachers' current level of language skills. Only about a quarter of the "pool" reported a level of skill that might realistically enable them to go straight into teaching their language. Many (though not all) of the remainder were keen to bring their rusty skills up to standard, but felt that some sort of language course, at least, would be needed.

The 198890 drive to diversify language provision did have an impact ("A bumpy ride for drive on languages", TES, February 9). That scheme involved local audits of skills, and provision for re-training. What is needed to take languages forward into the 21st century is a realistic appraisal of the current situation, and a strategy for reviving and deploying the skills of the untapped pool of languages other than French.

FELICITY REES PETER DICKSON National Foundation for Educational Research Upton Park Slough, Berkshire

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