MORE young people than ever are turning away from foreign languages at A-level - a decline of 13.5 per cent in French and 9 per cent in German this year.
This is alarming, to say the least, and the recommendations of the Nuffield Languages Inquiry seem to have fallen on deaf ears.
As a languages teacher with 20 years' experience of watching several bandwagons roll by, (remember the Longman's roll of still pictures and the "death by carousel" activities?) I feel extraordinarily frustrated by these statistics. What is to be done?
If languages are to be introduced more widely in primary schools, then we have to maintain the momentum of that initial youthful enthusiasm by not going over the same stuff up to GCSE. No wonder your average Year 11 pupil isn't turned on by learning how to ask for a bar of soap or saying that shehe wants to send a parcel to Germany.
Information and communications technology has to be fundamental: if other subjects benfit from increased motivation with the use of ICT, then languages should be up there with them.
More languages teachers are needed. The crisis of recruitment and retention is a major problem affecting the learning of many of our pupils.
Above all, we need an understanding that learning a language is for life, not just for a GCSE or A-level. It is a means to an end, you never know when it will come back to surprise you. (I taught Spanish to a group of plumbers going out to fit bathrooms in villas in Spain and the familiar cry "I wish I'd listened more when I was doing this at school!" still haunts me.) Learning one language makes learning the next one easier. In Europe, learning and using a language is part of life: you don't get self-conscious about it or go round telling everyone how hard or boring it is, you just do it and practise it at every opportunity.