'Young Scots must rise to languages challenge'

17th June 2011 at 01:00
Minister calls for all pupils to learn two foreign tongues

Scots children will be emulating their European peers and learning two foreign languages in addition to their own native tongue within the next decade, the new Minister for Learning and Skills pledged to language teachers last week.

But the Scottish version of the European 1 + 2 model could include Gaelic and Chinese, said Alasdair Allan, whose linguistic expertise lies in Gaelic and Scots.

The European 1+2 model was challenging for many European countries but even more so for a country like Scotland where there was no common agreement on any particular languages being one that young people should learn, he told the annual conference of Scotland's national language centre, SCILT, which is based at Strathclyde University.

"I know that this is an ambitious aim - that is why we are looking to deliver this over the lifetime of two parliaments," he said.

But it was vital that young Scots left education with the skills and experience to allow them to compete on an equal footing with their peers in other countries, said Dr Allan.

"We want to see buy-in from professionals, parents and learners; we want to see buy-in from employers, colleges and universities," he added.

The need for businesses to co-operate with schools was echoed by management consultant and business expert Rob Wherrett.

To attract young people to learning languages, businesses had to communicate their needs and highlight that for many "golden jobs" - the jobs young people aspire to and dream of - languages were required.

"If I am running a business and I need language skills, I don't want to have to go and buy that in; I want to have that in-house," he said. "We need to communicate our business needs. It is not about telling children at 16 they should be learning French that year, but telling 10-year-olds," said Mr Wherrett.

Knowledge, as opposed to fluency, was helpful in business as it allowed young people to connect with others and opened them up to other cultures, he said.



The German Consul General in Scotland, Wolfgang Mossinger, warned that young people who did not learn languages were "turning their backs on Europe".

He renewed his call for compulsory learning of a foreign language in secondary schools, or making knowledge of a foreign language a prerequisite for attending university.

Mr Mossinger said he was passionate about making sure Scottish children learned a European language in school as it was key to keeping them engaged with Europe.

"Continental Europe cannot stand idly by when the interest of young people is drifting slowly away from Europe. That is where this becomes a political issue," Mr Mossinger said.

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