Appeal to teach languages in all primary schools

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The Independent Online

A revolution in education is needed to end a culture of complacency about foreign languages, an independent inquiry said yesterday.

Children should learn languages from the age of seven and no one should be able to enter university without an A-level in foreign languages, the report urged.

The two-year Nuffield Foundation inquiry, chaired by Sir Trevor McDonald, of ITN, and Sir John Boyd, of Churchill College, Cambridge, argued that Britain must abandon "our deplorable monolingualism" or suffer in competitive world markets. Sir Trevor said members of the inquiry team did not subscribe to the view that the British were bad at learning languages - they just did not think they were important.

"We cannot assume that everybody else is going to speak English for the benefit of people in this country. It is a very arrogant position to take. It is also insensitive. It doesn't pay sufficient attention to other people's culture," Sir Trevor said. Too few secondary school pupils left with an adequate grasp of languages, the report said. Nine out of ten dropped languages at the age of 16. In other countries, a foreign language was regarded as essential in post-16 education, but in Britain "the study of language post-16 is seen purely as a route to a specialist language degree rather than a life skill".

The report advocated the establishment of 100 international primary schools a year for the next 10 years, in which children would learn in another language as well as their own from the age of five. By the age of 11 they would be bilingual.

It also argued for more languages to be taught. The widespread teaching of French had more to do with tradition than modern needs. Spanish, Chinese, Japanese and Arabic were important for British business. The report concluded: "Those who fail to communicate in any language other than English, or who rely on third parties, risk losing out on personal relationships and risk losing business."

It said young people from Britain would be at a growing disadvantage in the recruitment stakes against Europeans and Asians who offered English and other languages.