Why pupils should say ja to German

24th October 2014 at 01:00
Edinburgh programme aims to reverse fall in uptake of subject

A joint drive has been launched by the University of Edinburgh and the city council to halt the decline in the number of school pupils in the city opting to study German.

To boost the subject's popularity, German students at the university are going into schools as ambassadors, and the new partnership will also be bringing student teachers over from Germany to give pupils more contact with native speakers.

The number of Higher entries in the subject across Scotland has fallen by 20 per cent in five years - down from 1,261 to 1,004 between 2009 and 2014. The numbers of students opting for French at Higher has also fallen during the same period but at a slower rate - down 10 per cent from 4,577 to 4,128. One of the few languages to have become more popular is Spanish, with entries up by more than a third to 1,840 in the same period.

In 2012, a Scottish government report estimated that the overall decline in language learning at school and university could be costing the economy about pound;500 million every year. To tackle this, ministers are implementing the 1+2 approach, in which children have to learn a second language from P1 and a third from no later than P5.

To encourage older pupils to stick with German, the University of Edinburgh will today host an event explaining the benefits of learning the language. In addition, fourth-year German language students have been assigned as ambassadors to six secondary schools in the city. There, they share their experiences of their year abroad in a bid to encourage pupils to take up the subject.

To put more native speakers into contact with young learners, seven student teachers from Mainz University will work at primary and secondary schools in the Scottish capital this year.

Annette Gtzkes, senior teaching fellow at the University of Edinburgh, who is organising today's event for pupils, said that learning a modern language - particularly German - provided numerous benefits.

"Everything in schools is so skills-based, but languages seem to be about being able to go on holiday. No one ever thinks about why it may be a good career choice," she said. "In the UK, 315,000 jobs are with German companies. German is also the second most commonly used language in science and the world leader in engineering."

She argued that university students were ideally placed to explain the benefits of language learning to pupils: "Why not get someone younger and cooler than we are involved?"

Initial feedback on the ambassador programme from headteachers had been positive, Ms Gtzkes said, adding that after the success of this pilot the university would be keen to extend the programme to other languages.

Fhiona Fisher, acting director at SCILT, Scotland's National Centre for Languages, said: "This is a very interesting example of how partnership working between schools and higher education can engage young people by providing them with positive language learning role models.

"At the same time, the university students have the opportunity to develop their own employability skills by working with schools. This project encourages young people to recognise the benefits of learning German, not only in terms of employability, but also in terms of developing a more international outlook.

"It is heartening to see such a proactive, cross-sector approach to the promotion of language learning."

Learning the lingo

Last week, the University of Edinburgh launched a Bilingualism Matters centre, which aims to raise awareness of the benefits of speaking more than one language.

Bilingualism Matters offers talks in schools, and already has branches in Croatia, England, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands and Norway.

Professor Antonella Sorace, director of the Edinburgh centre, said: "With the Scottish government's commitment to introducing languages at primary school, this is an exciting time.

"The creation of a new centre is an example of the university's commitment to ensuring people are aware of the facts, benefits and challenges of speaking more than one language."

See bilingualism-matters.ppls.ed.ac.uk


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