Not all Sturm und Drang in languages

2nd July 2004 at 01:00
I read with regret your article and leader on languages (TES, June 1). I once again find myself defending a job that I and my fellow language teachers try to do well.

I teach Spanish and French to GCSE and A-level. This week has been a normal week - my pupils learned how to order food in a restaurant and had a lot of fun playing clients and staff with varying moods. They have discussed their favourite films and talked about issues related to relocating to Spain. One group took on the role of Spanish weather forecasters.

I am not "an exceptionally enthusiastic" language teacher winning awards but a typical one working hard to motivate pupils.

Why do I have to do this? First, as you point out, there is a "lack of extrinsic motivation" but your headlines only reinforce this.

In fact, languages graduates are among the most successful in employment.

Linguists are highly valued for their ability to communicate, wider experience and other high- level skills..

There are lots of jobs where young Britons require languages but we often lose business, time, money and our reputation because it is too easy to opt out of languages.

Language learning is difficult and language teaching is exhausting. We need colleagues to recognise this and we need support and encouragement. There are not many lessons where activities last a couple of minutes before teachers are required to make an input again in order to move students on.

I fail to understand the argument about dull course content. It is surely more important for students to be able to hold basic conversations about themselves, their family, give directions, describe what there is to do in their area or reserve hotel rooms than to discuss the latest film with a business associate.

Furthermore, the "basic" topics work well when properly presented. My only suggestion would be to incorporate even more target-country understanding.

Having accomplished this in key stage 4, our students then have the opportunity to go on to do higher-order tasks. This is just sensible progression.

I agree that we do need more capable linguists. We do compete against subjects which seem more appealing. I truly do not believe language teachers are to blame.

Fourteen-year-old pupils will tend towards the easy option and we cannot make language learning easy. We can make it enjoyable and relevant, we can offer lots of support but we cannot learn the language for them - that requires concentration and hard work. For many students, that makes the decision easy. How many of us took notice of adults who said "you'll regret it one day" or "it will be useful to you in the future"? Nevertheless, we need students to sit up and notice. The only way that this will happen is with support and encouragement.

We need The TES and other media to convey the importance of language learning to the public.

Peter J Marett La Forge La Grande Route de Rozel St Martin, Jersey

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