If you're involved in language teaching then you may have already made use of CILT, the Centre for Information on Language Teaching and Research. Begun in the Sixties, its initial aim was to collect and provide information on the teaching of modern languages. But today its work is far broader and is firmly linked to the National Languages Strategy. It also has a new name - CILT: the National Centre for Languages.
The name is the result of the recent merger with the Languages National Training Organisation. And the new, larger body is determined to promote language learning across the United Kingdom.
You don't need to become a CILT member: anyone concerned with language teaching and learning is welcome to take advantage of the Centre, whether a teacher, inspector, researcher or employer. It's based in London but operates throughout the UK, offering a resources library, conferences, courses and publications. It has teaching materials and training events as well as an on-line business language service that includes a sort of dating agency for language jobs.
CILT's aim has always been to encourage a "greater national capability" in languages. In other words, it wants more people speaking more languages. Yet the British are not traditionally known for their linguistic skills. "It's a paradox that in a nation that is the most multilingual in Europe - with 300 languages spoken in London alone - that we still come low in terms of language learning," says Peter Boaks, acting director of CILT. But he hastens to add that the UK does have great examples of diversity and excellence in language learning.
The Centre began in 1966 as an independent charitable trust supported by central government grants. Starting as a service for language teachers, especially at the secondary level, the Centre began forming new partnerships and offering services for adult, FE and university language teachers.
In 1992, a new director was appointed, Dr Lid King, coinciding with the introduction of the government's National Curriculum for Languages.
In 2000, the Centre's main focus was still providing services for teachers, but in 2001, the European Year of Languages, it began addressing a wider arena. Such was the enthusiasm over the Year that it has now become an annual Day. "People felt there was so much more to do," says Teresa Tinsley, assistant director of CILT, who coordinated the Year in the UK. Today, the Centre is concerned with language policy and attitudes to language, in business and education.
Still, education remains a priority - particularly in primary schools. In December 2002, the Government published the National Languages Strategy, which addressed the quality of language learning in English schools. Children will now have the chance, from Key Stage 2, to study a foreign language and by age 11 they are expected to have reached a "recognised level" of competence.
Older children are to be encouraged to pursue more languages as well, although in the past decade few have wanted to study it at A-level. "We need to create a language learning experience that is both relevant and enjoyable," says Boaks.
The Centre is also involved in bilingual learning which, in theory, not only teaches a foreign language but improves the overall learning experience. A pilot bilingual project with eight schools began last September. Under this project, schools are teaching curriculum subjects such as history or geography, in French, German or Spanish.
The Centre is committed to promoting language learning to people of all ages and from all walks of life, and these days it has a number of celebrity role models to choose from. Gary Lineker learnt Spanish and Japanese in between football practice, while Prince William is said to be studying Swahili. "We are in the 21st century and if you can't learn another language by now, something must be seriously wrong," says footballer David James.
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