New resources from CILT, the National Centre for Languages, aim to persuade teenagers that language skills mean more jobs, more laughs and more life. Alison Thomas dips in
Matthew Cutmore remembers coming out of his final German exam at school thinking: "Right! That's it! Finished! I'll never have to do that again!"
Little did he realise that as an apprentice with BMW, he would have weekly German lessons and be expected to converse with German colleagues in their own tongue. Four years on, he takes huge pride in his language skills and his ultimate aim is to become so fluent that he could be mistaken for a native speaker.
Matthew's story, one of 17 video clips on the new Introducing Languages Work CD-Rom, is intended to persuade British teenagers that learning a language is not a waste of time and can even be fun. The message is reinforced by a chef, who arrived in Barcelona without a word of Spanish, and a cleaner at Bradford airport, who gets great satisfaction from helping lost French tourists find their way. A sports reporter explains how her knowledge of French enabled her to break into the competitive world of the media, an international telephone operator describes how her language skills helped to save someone's life. A divisional director of award-winning manufacturer Gripple Ltd puts the business case and the celebrity spots are taken by Gary Lineker and Trevor McDonald.
Collated by CILT, the National Centre for Languages, and supported by the DfES, Languages Work is a collection of resources highlighting the multiple benefits of learning a language, backed up by extensive information and advice.
Although these resources cater for different audiences, up to and including adults, the authors are particularly keen to get through to key stage 3 pupils. This is all the more important since the withdrawal of languages from the core curriculum has allowed disaffected learners to vote with their feet at KS4.
"Our research paints a sad picture of young people with narrow horizons and low self-esteem. These are the people we need to reach. Languages must not become an elitist subject," says Teresa Tinsley, CILT's assistant director of communications.
An activity pack for schools includes factsheets together with a teachers'
booklet containing lesson plans designed to dispel common myths, set students thinking and help them make informed choices at GCSE and beyond.
They will find more information on the website, which offers case studies, careers guidance, information on culture, leisure and travel and a section called Fun and Games for younger users.
As well as the video clips, the CD-Rom contains PowerPoint presentations, electronic versions of the factsheets and other materials which can be printed out in colour or black and white. There is also a handbook on languages and careers and a series of six bold, colourful posters and postcards, like the three shown on these pages, which promote the three recurrent themes of the campaign - English is not enough, a little language learning can make a lot of difference, and languages improve the quality of your life.
Bentley Wood High School in Middlesex helped to trial pilot materials. "The pack arrived just before options evening so we used it with Year 9 and took excerpts to the parents' evening. It has some good ideas," says acting head of French, Catherine Lambert.
In particular, she appreciated the quotes from celebrities, which were "much more interesting than what the teacher thinks", and access to concrete facts and figures, such as the statistic that 75 per cent of the world's population speaks no English at all.
"Like most people, the pupils assumed that everyone spoke English, so that really took them aback," she says. They were equally surprised to learn that fluency in a foreign language can add from 8 per cent to 20 per cent to a person's salary.
Information on which languages are appropriate for different careers was another eye-opener. "They understand that science is important if you want to study medicine but they don't see the connections with languages - for example French is used in international law and German is good for engineering," she observes.
Discussion prompts encouraged students to identify what they enjoyed in language lessons and helped them to recognise the value of transferable skills, both in the workplace and for other school subjects. "Group work, team work, brainstorming, communication - they realised they do all of these but they had not thought about it before," she says.
Cross-curricular themes are one of the features of the Languages Work materials. One activity sheet looks at languages in the context of travel and tourism. Another links into citizenship and encourages students to reflect on qualities such as tolerance, respect and the ability to see things from another point of view. There are lesson suggestions for PSHE as well as guidance on using the internet for research.
Parents, too, are included through discussion sheets designed to be taken home, while the handbook and parts of the website provide a comprehensive resource for careers advisers.
"The task of promoting languages should not fall exclusively on modern languages teachers," says project manager Dominic Luddy. "They are bound to be the most enthusiastic but they should try to bring in colleagues and others to support the message."
One thing is certain. If teachers are to arrest the decline in the number of pupils opting for their subject, they need to take time out from teaching the mechanics of language to explore the wider picture. These materials provide an attractive, accessible and informative tool. It would be asking too much to expect them to do for the average teenager what BMW did for Matthew. But if they raise awareness of the opportunities available, inspire a little interest and help to shift entrenched attitudes, it will be time well spent.
Handbook for languages and careers (available November): pound;15 Activity folder for schools: pound;15 Handbook and Activity folder together: pound;20 Introducing Languages Work CD-Rom, provided free with all of the above, can be bought separately: pound;5 Factsheets, posters and postcards are available free.
Order form from Central Books Ltd Tel: 0845 458 9910 Email: email@example.com
For more information and an order form: www.languageswork.org.uk