Your views

23rd May 2014 at 01:00

Let's spread the word about language

The primary purpose of language is to facilitate communication. It therefore follows that resources should be concentrated on teaching second languages which allow us to function in countries where English is not always spoken and which we are fairly likely to visit or deal with in our working life. In many jobs the ability to translate between English and other languages is a sought-after skill.

Talking recently to several teachers, I have come to appreciate that foreign languages are in decline in our schools. The teaching of Classics, whose vocabulary and grammar lie at the heart of many European and worldwide languages, has largely ceased. Further, Education Scotland has been promoting Gaelic learning for primary schoolchildren.

If resources are to be put into the teaching of a second language - and I firmly believe that they should - then it makes sense to choose the candidate languages efficiently. Criteria would include languages that are widely spoken and used in countries with which Scots are likely to engage in business transactions or scientific and technical discourse. Sensible candidates include French, Spanish and German.

I suggest that resources be invested in the quality training of teachers in those languages and that we revert to the principle that all pupils should study at least one foreign language in secondary school. It is also highly desirable that exposure to a second language occur at primary school. More secondary teachers could be trained and current ones deployed so that, as well as teaching foreign languages in secondary school, they could act as visiting specialists in their associate primary schools.

As to Gaelic, this language is spoken by only about 1 per cent of the population, most or all of whom also speak English. It is not a major language of commerce and it is not needed for communication by those who travel even to such strongholds of Gaelic as the Western Isles. The funding of education must be targeted at addressing the needs of the many, not the pet projects of a tiny minority. Finite resources would be much better spent ensuring that our children can read and write quality English and speak languages that can be used in many parts of the world, instead of having Gaelic "threeped doun oor thrapples".

Alistair Thomson

Retired teacher, Kirkcaldy, Fife

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