Talking point

20th December 2002 at 00:00
The Government wants more assistants to teach languages. Philippa White and Adi Bloom ask whether the idea will work.

Professor Chris Perriam of Newcastle University, who is on the executive committee of the University Council of Modern Languages: "I think undergraduates would be enthusiastic if the Government supplied training, otherwise they would not know how to react in a primary school. It is a skilled job: the fact students can speak a language is not enough."

Nicolas Chapuis, head of the cultural department at the French Embassy:

"Anything which can further the cause of languages in schools is wonderful, but the linguists who will eventually be put into primary schools will have to be trained in teaching skills. You need to narrow the field to linguists but you cannot just parachute them in."

A spokesman for GCHQ, the Government's communication headquarters, which employs several hundred linguists: "We have various schemes where volunteers help with literacy and numeracy in failing local schools. But I doubt we would do the same with languages - I do not think we could spare the resources. We are struggling to keep up with the scheme as it is. We are not averse to the idea, but would not want to put pressure on our linguists to take this on."

Dudley Rochelle, director of To Localise, a translation service in London which has 1,800 linguists on its database: "Translators are not necessarily good teachers. We would try to find someone with a teaching background, rather than just sending a translator in. If we could not find anyone with the right background, we would turn the job down: it would not be fair on the kids otherwise. And, as a rule, it does not work trying to wing something."

Anne Mackintosh, healthcare database manager, who has a degree in German:

"I could do conversation classes: it would be feasible to be used as a resource. But it would be difficult to teach a structured course, unless you worked part-time and could devote equal time to this job. I do not think just anybody can teach effectively, people need some pedagogical training."

Anne-Marie Martin, director, University of London careers service:

"The great thing about people who do modern languages degrees is that they want to use their languages in whatever job they do. As part-time work, it could be attractive: if graduates do not have a job where they use their languages, they could go into school once a week and keep their skills up-to-date."

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