Mind your languages! UK is warned it cannot carry on at bottom of class
The 'Why should I bother with another language' attitude does not work any more, says EU education Commissioner
Richard Garner has been Education Editor of The Independent for 12 years and writing about the subject for 34 years. Before becoming a journalist, he worked as a disc jockey in London pubs and clubs and for a hospital radio station. His main hobbies are cricket (watching these days) and theatre. On his days off, he is most likelt to be found at Lord’s or the King’s Head Theatre Club.
Friday 18 October 2013
Britons can no longer rely on the rest of the world speaking English to get by in the world of business or work, the European Education Commissioner warns.
Androulla Vassiliou cited figures which showed the UK languishing at the foot of a European languages league table - the EU had set a target of 50 per cent of people speaking two foreign languages fluently - yet in the UK only nine per cent of 15-year-olds spoke one foreign language. That compared with more than 80 per cent of 15-year-olds in the Netherlands and Sweden, who topped the table.
Interviewed by The Independent, Ms Vassiliou said: "The results of the survey were disappointing - and very disappointing for the UK because it came last.
"I think it is because the majority of people (90 per cent) who learn foreign languages have their first foreign language as English," she said. "There is absolute confidence amongst the British 'I can get along with my language - why should I bother with another language?'."
She added: "This attitude doesn't work. We live in a globalised world. We travel a lot. The EU, for instance, won't employ people unless they speak two other languages."
In addition, more business was being conducted online and people were more reluctant to conduct their business online in a foreign language.
Ms Vassiliou, who was addressing the London Languages Show in Olympia yesterday, added that Britons were also reluctant to sign up for programmes - such as Erasmus+ - which offered more than four million people across the EU the chance to spend part of their studies or training in another country.
Figures showed nearly 40,000 British citizens were receiving grants to study abroad from the EU - compared with 83,000 a year in Germany and more than 70,000 a year in both France and Spain.
She added: "It's not just about improving language skills. It's about opening up minds to new ideas and meeting people from different cultures."
Figures also showed the number of degree courses in French and German had plunged - from 105 to 70 in French since 200 and 105 to 50 in German. In addition, the number of 18-year-olds applying to study European languages had plunged by nearly 17 per cent since 2010.
She said that the UK should take a leaf out of China's book which had asked for its teachers to be trained in all the languages of the EU so it could communicate with each country in its own language.
However, she said she had detected a willingness on the part of the Coalition Government to tackle the problem.
"There are two or three things which make me more optimistic," she said. "For instance, as from next September, they are going to teach one foreign language from the age of seven which is very good. The earlier you start the better - but seven is a good age."
She also cited Education Secretary Michael Gove's new English Baccalaureate GCSE ranking measure for school league tables - which meant pupils could not qualify for it unless they received a top grade pass in a language. "It encourages young people to take a language - and the chances that they will continue with it are very good, too," she said.
In addition, private sector language provision was flourishing.
James Foley 'beheaded': PM cuts holiday short for emergency meeting on British response to latest Isis atrocity
Michael Brown shooting: Police shoot and kill second young black man near Ferguson
ALS ice bucket challenge co-founder Corey Griffin drowns aged 27
James Foley 'beheaded': Isis video shows militant with British accent 'execute US journalist' – and warns Obama of more to come
Iraq crisis: Islamic State's message to America - 'We will drown you all in blood'
Scottish independence: English people overwhelmingly want Scotland to stay in the UK
Isis threat: Cameron wants an alliance with Iran
Crisis? What crisis? A visiting US doctor gives the NHS a rave review
Michael Brown shooting: Chaos erupts on the streets of Ferguson after autopsy shows teenager was shot six times – twice in the head
Scottish Independence Referendum: Salmond described as 'arrogant, ambitious and dishonest' by Scottish women
Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome: 'Abort it and try again. It would be immoral to bring it into the world'
- 2 ALS ice bucket challenge co-founder Corey Griffin drowns aged 27
- 3 Cilla Black defends Cliff Richard: 'I am positive that the allegations are without foundation'
- 4 Nicki Minaj finally releases predictable 'Anaconda' video
- 5 James Foley 'beheading': Met police warn public watching murder video could be criminal offence
£26000 - £30000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Working with an exciting ...
£100 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Nottingham: Exciting Opportunity, Rand...
£50 - £60 per day: Randstad Education Nottingham: Behaviour Support Worker Th...
£50 - £60 per day: Randstad Education Nottingham: Randstad Education are looki...