No time to lose languages

21st September 2012 at 01:00

No subject has suffered more from Curriculum for Excellence than modern languages. CfE - once the hope for improvement and opportunity for much needed change - has given secondary schools the chance to cut back on languages, with some disappearing altogether ("Bleak outlook for languages", 14 September).

Teaching time in primary and secondary has always been too little too late. Nobody can learn a foreign language with 50 minutes a week over two years in primary and now two hours a week in broad general education in secondary instead of three. So-called "taster courses" in S3 do not help progression either. Pupils cannot make sufficient progress under CfE conditions to feel a sense of achievement in handling a foreign language successfully and with confidence.

Some schools allow pupils to drop out of languages before the end of broad general education. Care must be taken that they are able to make informed choices and that the curriculum reflects the needs of 21st-century education, with an international job market and competition on a global scale.

The decline in language learning is worrying in a world that desperately needs native English speakers with a working knowledge of another language. The three languages that British employers most often look for in staff are, reportedly, German first, French second and Spanish third. School curricula should reflect those needs.

The myth about German being more difficult than French and Spanish is still doing the rounds owing to traditional teaching methods and approaches. A closer link to English departments would help to raise awareness of the similarities rather than the differences, and develop a common framework of language teaching with cross-curricular approaches.

There is a lack of leadership and responsibility since departments have become faculties and modern languages development officers are no longer available in local authorities. Modern language teachers have to justify their subjects and fight for their own little corner, although no other subject contributes as much to literacy and cross-curricular learning.

Modern languages would benefit from the development of a national policy that schools and heads are bound to apply. This would secure stability, progression and achievement, and enhance the motivation of modern language teachers - and pupils.

It will be interesting to see the impact of CfE on the new National exams. Less teaching time for languages and less time to develop receptive and productive language skills might reflect on exam standards. Less time for fun-packed lessons and for supporting literacy and broadening children's horizons about culture and other countries will certainly reflect on their education and the nation's future.

Kirsten Herbst-Gray, Langholm Academy, via the TESS website.

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