Real men do learn a language

3rd March 2006 at 00:00
Last month it was history in crisis: this month it is languages which are said to be seen as "gay - for women, not men's stuff" (page 3). Like history teachers and SNP members who tell you we must do more history, so someone from the languages network is going to tell you we must do more languages. Does Tim Steward have a point? Certainly many think so, and even the Royal Society of Edinburgh will hold a one-day conference later this month on the matter.

We had the Mulgrew inquiry into languages six years ago, which neatly removed the compulsory dimension while advocating a languages experience for all, something rather short of actually speaking another language. We do not need another inquiry.

What we do need is some recognition of reality and what motivates people to speak in another tongue, as our letter writer (page 2) makes clear.

Personal interest such as an emotional liaison is as much, if not greater, a motivator as the appeal to do your bit for your country's economic viability. As our letter writer also emphasises, you learn when you need to, as David Beckham discovered. That point is underlined by the thousands of Eastern European workers flooding into Scotland. They speak English first because their lives depend on it.

It is unlikely schools will churn out thousands of students fluent in some language, whether French or Mandarin. Their job is to open minds to learning and provide some of the rudiments of knowledge and understanding, along with some basic skills. Another dimension is to persuade boys that they are not gay if they are doing a languages option. If businesses want their operatives to learn languages, there are simple remedies - such as immersion learning in another country.

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today