Trendy talk

23rd January 2009 at 00:00

There is more to the decline of languages than meets the eye ("Languages decline deepens", TES, January 16). The trend at GCSE is towards a flight from reality. We are heading back to the 1970s, when candidates had to write picture essays on such everyday events as armed bank robbers being foiled by small girls and their even smaller dogs. One suggested spoken topic for 2011 is an extended interview with a homeless person - socially conscious, maybe, but useful for foreign travel? No.

The one language bucking the trend is Spanish, which reflects the needs of holidaymakers - although the new GCSE reduces the importance of spoken language.

In the 1970s, when candidates might conjugate the passive but couldn't actually hold a conversation, disaffected teachers of disaffected pupils devised their own programmes of practical, realistic language. These coalesced into the graded objective schemes that in turn led to the 16-plus and the early GCSE.

In 2011, candidates might be able to conjugate the subjunctive, but they won't dare enter a restaurant. Pupils should be learning how to function abroad, whether it be opening a bank account or complaining when the hotel charges them for a premium-rate TV channel they haven't used.

Phil Delnon, Teacher, Swanscombe, Kent.

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