Interpreting needs

5th December 2003 at 00:00
It is with great sadness that I read what Douglas Osler had to say in his article last week. The serious issue which the Scottish Office attempted to address in 1988 was the lack of ability of many of our young people to communicate in a foreign language, despite evidence that this was necessary for our young people to gain proper access to Europe.

This need has not changed in the intervening years, as was pointed out in the Mulgrew report, which recommended an entitlement of 500 hours for every pupil.

This "entitlement" is no more a choice option than our pupils' entitlement to guidance. The hotchpotch of alternatives which Douglas Osler proposes will not address this entitlement and will remove the learning of a modern foreign language from the core curriculum for many of our pupils.

At present Scotland is the only Anglophone country which takes seriously the need for all pupils to learn a language and, as he himself witnesses, has made good progress in this area, matching many of our continental neighbours. Douglas Osler's proposals will bring us back in line with the anglocentric approach which we have made so much progress in breaking down.

Anecdotal evidence of the businessman who said "Why the fuss? Hire an interpreter" says more about the future prospects of Scottish industry than the problems of language learning, and the phrase "If English was good enough for the Bible, it is good enough for my kids" might actually point to why it is so essential to offer all students a language.

All of the alternatives Douglas Osler mentions - language classes outside school, immersion, residential courses, internet learning, curriculum enhancement - are currently being trialled in Scotland, but with the idea of adding to our pupils' experience, offering additionality not lesser alternatives.

Finally, I fail to see the problem of associating language learning with school. It should be associated with school, and is in many people's eyes: every year we have a number of adult students in our classes because that is where they perceive they can actually learn a language. We have this year two students picking up Spanish and three who are now aiming for Advanced Higher' having attained a Higher.

Schools can teach many things, but they must remain centres of academic excellence where pupils learn how to tackle the learning process in a way which will support them in their lifelong learning.

Douglas Angus

Principal teacher modern languages

Kelso High School

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