Number of undergraduates on full-time modern foreign language courses at lowest point in a decade, new report concludes
The real significance of Language Trends
Bernardette Holmes, Speak to the Future’s Campaign Director, comments on research published on 25 March, 2014.
The publication of the 12th in the series of annual research exercises, Language Trends 2013-2014 carried out under the joint direction of CfBT and the British Council provides us with an up-to-date appraisal of language provision in English schools. The benefit of this report is in its longevity. It is the only survey which has collated annual data drawn from a sample of state maintained and independent secondary schools over this critical period in the development of language policy.
A dearth of foreign language skills accounts for nearly a fifth of hard-to-fill vacancies in the UK, a survey has found.
The British Academy-Guardian Language Festival was highly successful in promoting language learning through its School Language Awards announcing 13 prize winners, including seven supplementary and six state schools, for innovation in how to increase the numbers of students learning languages at higher levels. Here are the festival highlights.
The Festival concluded with the very high profile award of the first ever Public Language Champion going to Arsène Wenger, Manager of Arsenal Football Club. Arsène, in addition to being an outstanding football manager, speaks English, German, Spanish, Italian and Japanese in addition to French. His passion for language learning has led to the development of the Double Club, a scheme which encourages children in primary and secondary schools to develop their language skills through football.
Perhaps with a presage of David Cameron’s recent support for the learning of Mandarin Chinese, Arsène said that he would like to learn Chinese one day. S2F will be developing closer links with the Arsenal Double Club to promote language learning in London and nation-wide throughout 2014.
Language Rich Europe has had a very busy few months! In this post, LRE Director Simon Ingram-Hill reflects on some of the project’s recent activity.
After the launch events across the 25 participating European countries and regions this summer and the 50+ consultative workshops so far held, there was major LRE media coverage in a number of countries not least Scotland on 26 November about the lack of foreign language competence in UK hurting British business competitiveness.
We have just held our first major international conference at the British Academy with 160 policy makers and high level practitioners, debating key results from the research findings. British Council CEO Martin Davidson then launched the English version to 250 stakeholders of LRE’s CUP publication ‘Trends in Language Policies and Practices for Multilingualism in Europe’.
Other indications of how seriously this project is being taken: the full report is to be published in 19 other languages; we presented LRE to the all-party parliamentary committee on Modern Languages at the House of Lords on 10 December; key recommendations are being formulated for presentation at the European Parliament Brussels on 5 March.
And best? At the Report’s launch Caroline Parker signed a number of songs to much applause reprising her acclaimed performance at the Paralympics 2012 opening ceremony. Sign language by the way is an official minority language in many European countries.
Martin Dowle, Director British Council Ukraine, presented the language situation in Wales at last week’s Language Rich Europe launch in Kyiv. In this blog post, he summarises the approaches Wales is taking in order to promote Welsh and prevent its decline.
Is it inevitable that minority languages will always suffer decline? The case of Welsh shows this does not need to be the case. Since its low point in 1991, when just 18% of the Welsh population spoke Welsh, it has started to make a modest recovery. Today, 37% of 3 to 14 year-olds are able to speak Welsh, compared to just 15% in 1971, fuelling recovery from the cradle upwards.
Today, there are an estimated 611,000 Welsh speakers in Wales. Of these, 315,000 are native speakers, and the rest have competency, as a second language, to a greater or lesser degree.
Official figures suggest Wales loses between 1,200 and 2,200 native speakers every year. The number of communities – mostly rural — where 70% or more are native speakers continues to decline. But more people now speak (and are learning) Welsh as a second language in cities such as Cardiff than ever before.
In part this reflects a change in attitude to Welsh amongst non-Welsh speakers. Recent polling suggested 80% of Welsh people saw the language as something to be proud of. This is a far cry from the hostility that greeted the decision by the government in the early 1980s to set up a fourth TV channel solely in Welsh. Attitudes have changed, and this matters.
In 2000, the teaching of Welsh became compulsory in all schools up to the age of 16. The number of Welsh-medium schools is growing, as are measures to build the capacity of teachers to teach through the medium of Welsh.
But the Welsh government’s policy argues the school setting is not enough. Policy seems to me to focus on two areas.
First: the home. It encourages mothers and social carers, midwives, and nursery education to help develop the adoption of Welsh as a first language. If two parents speak Welsh, it’s estimated the chances the child will too are around 80%. If only one speaks Welsh, the chances are halved.
Second: the leisure activities of adolescents. The language is at risk if young people don’t see the benefit of speaking it, or think it’s cool to switch to English. So an effective language policy needs to consider youth culture, peer-group pressure, community attitudes, the global media and social networking. Providing enough cultural and social value to tip the balance in favour of Welsh is a big ask – but it’s essential to long-term survival. So policies really do need to focus on the language of ‘interaction’.
Read more about languages in Wales on the Language Rich Europe website and in our previous blog posts:
At a time of globalisation, troubled economies and increasing migration, knowledge of foreign languages is critical to building social bridges, improving job prospects and enhancing competitiveness in Europe.
How well is Wales responding to these challenges?
The Welsh launch of Language Rich Europe will take place on Tuesday 9 October at the Pierhead Building, Cardiff.
The programme is as follows:
Welcome and introduction from Simon Dancey, Director British Council Wales
Address by the Presiding Officer, Rosemary Butler AM
The Importance of Multilingualism, overview from Professor Colin Williams, Cardiff University
Language Rich Europe Wales and UK results – Dr Lid King, Director The Languages Company
Panel discussion – Aled Eirug (British Council Wales Advisory Committee Chair), Professor Colin Williams (Cardiff University), Professor Stephen Hagen (Newport University), and Dr Lid King (Languages Company)
On 28 June 2012 Baroness Coussins attended the Language Rich Europe launch in the UK. Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Modern Languages Group, she also asked Her Majesty’s Government the following question about LRE in England:
what is their response to the research report published in June 2012 by the British Council-led Language Rich Europe consortium on its findings in England [HL1136]
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools (Lord Hill of Oareford) responded:
We welcome this report and the valuable evidence it provides. Knowing a language benefits individuals and the economy more widely.
The Government is already taking steps to improve the take-up of languages in schools. We have announced that a language will be statutory for all seven to eleven year olds in maintained schools from 2014. A consultation will be launched shortly on what form this might take. Further, the English Baccalaureate has started to reverse the long-term decline of numbers taking languages at GCSE. We will be making an announcement on the secondary curriculum in due course.
You can read the Language Rich Europe profile for England on our website.
It’s time for some summertime fun with languages! Below our Communications Manager David Sorrentino has listed a few fun facts about languages and multilingualism.
Which ones did you know already? Do you know any other interesting facts you’d like to share?
- The distress code ‘Mayday’ comes from the French for help me, ‘M’Aide’.
- The United States does not have an official language.
- ‘Taxi’ is a word that has the same spelling in many languages, including English, German, French, Swedish, Spanish, Portuguese and more.
- More people speak English in China than in the United States.
- For over 600 years England’s official language was French.
- The name “Canada” originates from an Indian word which means “village”.
- Europe is home to roughly 225 indigenous languages or around 3% of the world’s total.
- At least half of all the people on earth can speak two or more languages.
- The city of London is linguistically diverse with around 300 languages spoken.
- According to the BBC, Human communication might have been sparked by involuntary sounds such as “ouch” or “eek” or by communal activities such as heaving or carrying heavy objects, coordinated by shouts of “yo-he-ho”, etc. Another theory proposes that language evolved from the communication between mother and baby, with the mother repeating the baby’s babbling and giving it a meaning. Indeed, in most languages “mama” or similar “ma”-sounds actually mean ‘mother’.
For more, see http://www.bbc.co.uk/languages/guide/languages.shtml
To help us kick off our project at the London School of Economics on 28 June we want to open up the debate and get ideas from across the twittersphere on one of our major topics of discussion and even invite our Twitter followers to attend!
Everyone will be able to take part using our twitter hash tag, #LREUK, during the event to give thoughts and ask questions on the main topics of discussion:
- Nearly a million school age children have another language besides English, but we do not seem to value this “linguistic capital”.
- There is great enthusiasm for learning a language from an early age, but provision is still less than in most European countries.
- More learners abandon language learning at 14 than in any other of the countries surveyed; very few continue with a language after 16.
- Advanced language learning is a class issue in England – the private sector and selective schools dominate at “A” level and despite brilliant exceptions “vocational” language learning is minimal.
- Business and employers generally need languages; many say this, but very few actively promote them.
- Our vibrant cities are effectively multicultural and multilingual and some lead the way in Europe.
The views of all those who respond will be shared with participants and panellists at the interactive workshop discussion happening 16:00h GMT on the 28th. We will have a screen showing tweets with #LREUK as they happen and we will be tweeting live from this discussion so you can follow along with debate and continue to send your views.
We welcome all who wish to take part so please spread the word and join us for this important event.
For more information on the event, please see our earlier blog post about it.