It's cool to speak English

10th January 2003 at 00:00
The clamour to ensure every child leaves school with a working knowledge of a second language matches so many calls for new education developments.

It is not hard to teach children languages, and it is not hard for them to learn. However, without plenty of on-going practice the fluency soon disappears.

We in Britain have far less opportunity to practise other languages (except in the case of community languages) than people from elsewhere have to practise their English - their cinema and TV screens are full of foreign language films; their main streets are full of English-speakers from many lands; their shops contain many goods from English-speaking places; English is used as a matter of course in various contexts like travel and food labelling.

For our young people it is far harder to practise any other language while still at school (even lone travel abroad being almost unheard of nowadays), while for very few are there significant opportunities in adult life.

I am just back from working in Kosovo. Many older professional Kosovars (such as teachers and school managers) have little English and, like everyone, refuse to speak Serbo-Croat; the most common second language is German, because so many people have worked in Germany, Austria and Switzerland.

However, English is very much alive and well among university and secondary students in the larger towns - they are called "coolers" because they have gained most exposure to the films and therefore say "Cool!" all the time.

In the same light, as a New Opportunities Fund trainer I have experienced plenty of examples of a teacher who has gained an educational computer skill, and revelled in its potential - but is unlikely to use it again quickly enough to be able to remember it sufficiently to be of any real benefit.

Education, education, education? Useless without practice, practice, practice.

Eric Deeson

4 Ethel Road Harborn Birmingham

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