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.

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