No place for monoglot complacency

23rd February 2007 at 00:00
Opinion was divided when learning the Welsh language became a compulsory part of the curriculum. However, it still happened as the Assembly government pulled out all the stops in their aim of creating a "truly bilingual country," as stated in their policy document Iaith Pawb. But unless our new generation of Welsh speakers travel to Patagonia, they will sadly not find many foreign destinations where they can test their new-found language skills.

It is difficult enough in some parts of Wales to find a fellow Welsh speaker outside the school gates. But how many adults in evening classes in Wales wished they had tried harder in that French lesson so they could be understood while stocking up on Christmas goodies in Calais? And how far has that frustration been reflected in the survey to go with the report into the KS2 modern foreign language programme pilot (see page 4)?

An overwhelming 88 per cent of parents questioned by the evaluation team say they would like their child to learn an MFL from an early age through to GCSE. It's encouraging that parents back the view that the wide use of English across the globe is no excuse for complacency. But the truth is that learning a language does require a great deal of work - both for teachers and pupils. The learning demands are relentless, often requiring daily practice.

The increased workload for both pupils and teachers is a major barrier. So is a lack of funding at the chalkface. Pupils, it seems, are giving up too easily, displaying defeatist attitudes to their abilities to achieve at GCSE.

However, until such attitudes change, our country will continue to be stuck in a rut. It is simply not good enough to say that making MFLs compulsory in the curriculum would prove unpopular when our business leaders tell us they can't fill posts because of a lack of language skills.

Surely, we should stop the next generation making the same mistakes as we did, even if there is opposition along the way.

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