Languages require more than lip service

26th February 2010 at 00:00

The Curriculum for Excellence recognises the importance of the global citizen in the classroom. But in practice, is the Government just paying lip service? With the exception of modern language teachers and a few other enlightened souls, Scottish people cling to the belief that being the biggest small country in the world is enough.

Yet, time and again, multinational companies tell us that the future of our young people lies in their ability to communicate beyond our increasingly narrowing borders. Language and intercultural skills are their only hope for jobs in a competitive global economy. Research also proves that the earlier children learn a language, the more motivated and confident they become. So, if we want our children to become literate and confident global citizens, it is imperative they come into contact with other languages at a young age.

Despite the research, and despite the noble aspirations of the Curriculum for Excellence in modern languages, the view on the ground is less than optimistic. The inspired Modern Languages in the Primary School initiative of the previous decade needs rejuvenation - but budgets for CPD to train MLPS teachers in schools have been slashed.

Providers of initial teacher education should be giving future primary teachers the language competence and the intercultural awareness to go straight into the classroom filled with confidence. Yet, in all but a couple of institutions, modern languages are optional electives. There are some lucky students who have a little MLPS training as part of their core curriculum. It is not enough.

Language and intercultural competences are not just skills that can be added on as "extras". They cannot be digested in bite-size chunks. They need to be one of the cornerstones of our modern education system. Children deserve the opportunity to be equals to their European counterparts. Let's level the playing field.

Catriona Cunningham, Lecturer in education (modern foreign languages), University of the West of Scotland.

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