'Unbelievably boring' language lessons turn pupils off degrees

7th March 2003 at 00:00
POOR teaching and boring lessons are turning pupils off modern foreign languages, new research suggests.

The subject is in danger of entering a spiral of decline, with fewer pupils attracted to studying languages at university and a resulting dearth of good teachers.

Some students believe their teachers, like them, would struggle to communicate abroad, while one teacher described her fellow linguists as "oddballs".

Dr Catherine Watts, of Brighton University, embarked on the research for the Anglo-German Foundation charity following a drastic decline in the number of language undergraduates.

A total of 1,272 students enrolled for degrees in French, German or Spanish in 2000, down 17 per cent on 1996.

The Nuffield languages inquiry of 2000 said "languages are in crisis", but the latest study said little had been done to explain why language degrees are less popular.

Dr Watts carried out group interviews with A-level students taking languages at two Sussex schools, one private, one state, and students studying for a language diploma at Brighton University. She also interviewed the A-level students' departmental heads and two university academics.

All three groups of students believed that employment options for those with a languages degree were largely confined to working abroad, translating, embassy work and teaching. None of these appealed, and teaching was "held in particularly low regard".

Many of the students and teachers said A-level study was very hard, representing a big step up from GCSE. One student said "you don't actually learn to speak" by the age of 16.

Several state A-level students would feel embarrassed if asked to speak "spontaneously to French people in France".

Students criticised the A-level syllabus - one who had gone on to take a languages diploma described the study of German literature as "unbelievably boring".

The report expressed concern about the Government's decision to make languages optional at age 14 next year while not giving all primary pupils the chance to study a language until 2012.

Dr Watts admitted that the number of people interviewed was small, but argued that the study was meant to offer qualitative, rather than statistical, conclusions.

"Decline in the take-up of modern languages at degree level" - www.agf.org.uk

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