Teaching French, second homes and others

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End the anachronism of teaching French in our schools

End the anachronism of teaching French in our schools

Sir: The exam results season has provoked outbreaks of lamentation over the decline of French and German in schools. We should be concerned about any reduction in foreign language learning; but this is a suitable point at which to reappraise the absurd level of primacy given to French within foreign language teaching.

For generations, French has been the automatic first foreign language taught to our children. This tradition was established in the Victorian era, at a time when French had an international significance which it no longer possesses. Our children would be much better served if the first foreign language to be taught were to be Spanish. They would be learning a true world language, whose relevance is growing. They would also be learning a language with relatively straightforward grammar, which is agreeable to pronounce and which would be more likely to foster an enthusiasm for further language acquisition. The clever or keen ones could then be offered a second language, probably German, which is of international commercial value.

It's time to throw off the shackles of the past and stop pointlessly inflicting French on our schoolchildren.


Sir: Professor Carsaniga (letter, 27 August) is right to criticise the idea "that language learning is a purely utilitarian training in communication with our nearest neighbours", and to urge the study of other languages as training for the mind. In the UK we seem to think that for communication to take place it is enough that other people understand us. This arrogant English attitude entirely neglects the need for us to understand other people in their own words. The study of languages should be promoted not just for utilitarian reasons, or as valuable academic training, but also with the ideal of promoting communication between nations and cultures. And it can be great fun to learn a new language and open a window on a new world in this way.

Sadly, it seems that successive governments have done their best to remove any such idealism or scope for intellectual exploration from British education, so it is hardly surprising that many youngsters may be less than inspired by what is left.

Abergavenny, Monmouthshire

Second homes save rural communities

Sir: Why is it that second homes and their owners always seem to get a bad press ("Welsh campaigners had a point, says mayor who is quitting his village", 1 September)?

Ever-changing planning constraints have had a distorting effect upon the housing market. All efforts to create an ordered and healthy environment have now collapsed through the loss of swaths of the green belt, and the demands of such philistines as John Prescott for more and more houses in the South-east. In the face of urban degeneration, and the desire of those who can afford it to avoid urban squalor, the demand for second homes is completely understandable.

But, the critics maintain, this demand is denying "locals" the chance to buy. Well-heeled incomers inflate prices and bring little to local communities. (Strange that sellers are rarely criticised for seeking the highest price.) Such criticism flies in the face of the facts. Rural and seaside communities have been dying for years. The virtual disappearance of the fishing industry, the concentration of industry in industrial estates, the dominance of the motor car, the attractions of town amenities for the young: all these factors have denuded small communities of the people who both live and work within them, and have led inevitably to the loss of local transport, shops, pubs, schools and churches.

Into this vacuum have moved the second-home seeker and the commuter. Second-home owners usually spend large sums on building work and so on, creating local employment, apart from the capital they have already injected into the area.

There is also the long-term benefit that second homes frequently become, principal residences upon retirement or altered circumstances. Their purchasers have helped to preserve the physical structure of a small community, having replaced local inhabitants who no longer desire or are able to remain there. Forced out not by affluent incomers but by lack of opportunity.


Sir: Those who live in areas where the housing has been bought up for high prices to be used a second/holiday homes should remember that it was probably their parents, relatives or friends who sold their homes in Appledore and many other similar villages.

It is to be hoped that Len Ford, the mayor of Appledore, will resist the temptation to sell for a high price and will instead sell to some local deserving couple.

Ilminster, Somerset

German reality

Sir: Angela Lambert (31 August) has decided that "Germany - and especially Bavaria - must join the present-day multicultural, multiracial reality of planet Earth". Sorry, Angela, but you've missed the bus. We joined ages ago.

While waiting to buy my Independent in Bonn yesterday I looked round and saw Turks, blacks, Asians and Russians, and mused how much Germany had changed in the 30 years I have lived here. In the hospital ward where I stayed recently, the staff consisted of Turks, an Indian, a Palestinian, Russians - oh yes, and a few Germans. Ms Lambert, sadly, has joined the dreary ranks of those British journalists who come here for a few days and see an Adolf and an Eva Braun behind every bush.

Odendorf, North Rhine Westphalia, Germany

Sir: I was in Berchtesgaden the same week as Angela Lambert and I was shocked that she should write such a passionate invective against its citizens on the grounds that they are racist.

Coming from a country where strangers rarely talk to each other on the train, I was delighted to see a whole carriage being entertained by a conversation between a Bavarian couple and my two Chinese friends on the way from Berchtesgaden to Munich. Elsewhere on my travels I found Bavarians cheerfully talking to Koreans, Britons and Poles - in English.

The Bavarians have a very enlightened attitude to tourism. You can buy a restaurant meal, a glass of beer or a T-shirt in any of their top beauty spots and pay exactly the same as in any small village. But strangely, although I found many German tourists taking advantage of this uncommercial attitude, I found very few English. Or perhaps not so strange if Angela Lambert's prejudice is any measure of the English attitude to Bavaria.

London SE13

Sir: It is not surprising that when one goes to provincial Germany one should find it largely populated by provincial Germans. The fact that there are few people of obviously foreign origin is explained by the fact that Germany had few colonies in Africa, and that the Gastarbeiter were recruited to work mainly in the larger towns.

Germany has built a democracy out of the ruins of the Hitler era, and that matters more, surely, than the origins of some of the buildings. From Adenauer to the twin stumbling blocks of reunification and the early adoption of the euro, it is a country that has done very little wrong and we should not be knocking it.

Witley, Surrey

Sir: The Nazis were not spawned by a Bavarian "utopia", as Angela Lambert suggests, but from a shattered, humiliated country a very long way from utopia.

In contrast, from the wreckage of the Second World War the Germans built a stable, prosperous democracy that on the whole (until recently, perhaps) has been more successful and better governed than Britain. What more could they possibly do to "break free of the past"?


Medical scapegoats

Sir: As a GP working in Hyde who was fortunate not to be involved in Shipman's cremations, I would like to offer my total support to those of my colleagues unfortunate enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time ("Doctors charged over Shipman 'failings' ", 1 September). I know if that I had been asked to countersign his certificates, chances are that I too would be awaiting my "trial" with trepidation.

We have no training in assessing the cause of death in these situations, and certainly have had no reason (until Shipman) to question the murdering capacities of our close colleagues.

The system is in need of a complete overhaul, and I am pleased to say that this is already under way. Making scapegoats of those doctors who actually blew the whistle on Shipman might help the GMC's cause somehow, but would do the medical profession in general, all of whom would have acted in a similar way, a great disservice.

Hyde, Greater Manchester

A racing certainty

Sir: While we non-racing types may agree that "corruption must be driven out of horse racing" (leading article, 2 September), it has continued to exist for centuries because many of the punters who risk their money on the horses don't care that the result is fixed, as long as they know about it in advance.

Tell football fans that a match has been fixed and they will be outraged. But go into any bookies' and tell the locals that you know a race is fixed and you know who will win and they will not report you to the appropriate authorities - rather they will demand to know which horse will win so that they can get their money on it.

As long as the mentality of the sport's followers is to study form but to hope for inside information, dishonesty will be accepted.


Apprentice advice

Sir: I must agree with Adrian Carey's sentiments (letter, 31 August) with regard to the "downmarket" view of apprenticeships. Now retired, I worked for some years as a technical college lecturer, and witnessed this problem.

The English class system has always had a negative effect on the perception of the apprenticeship "route", which tended to collapse after the late 1970s anyway, due to new management fashions and Thatcherism. Nevertheless, perhaps the largest problem has been the backgrounds of many careers advisers, who have only experienced the arts/humanities/teaching world.

Bletchley, Buckinghamshire

Transit lounges

Sir: Simon Calder is out of date in his description of the fate awaiting passengers on Air New Zealand's direct flight from Heathrow to Auckland via Los Angeles ("A totally transitory existence", 1 September).

Los Angeles does have a transit lounge; passengers are no longer required to collect their bags and go through customs before reboarding the same plane. But they are required to queue in a long passageway, without air-conditioning and inspected by two immigration officials before being allowed into a soulless room with the worst coffee imaginable.

This transit lounge most certainly is worthy of a place on Calder's list of ones to be avoided.


A far, far better thing

Sir: Let's have a simple new rule: if a situation is so urgent that a politician is prepared to sacrifice lives to resolve it, then he should be obliged to chip in and sacrifice his too.

After all, it costs money to train soldiers but politicians are 10 a penny and one less would be no loss. Who'd miss Bush or Blair? I'd be much more willing to believe them if they'd lay down their lives for their countries instead of other people's. I'd certainly be prepared to pay for the whisky, the revolver and the back garden.

London NW1

Weighty matter

Sir: Peter Rodgers ("The heart of the matter", 1 September) implies that physicists prefer to use the term "mass" instead of the more pedestrian-sounding "weight". This is erroneous, as the two are quite different. Mass is a measurement of the quantity of "stuff" in an object. Weight is the amount of force exerted by a mass as gravity acts upon it.

London SW9

Middle East hope

Sir: Alex Welby (letter, 2 September) asks what political solution is possible in the face of Bin Laden's agenda. The answer, as always, is eventual compromise and the cooling of passions. Its form will probably include a two-state solution in Israel/Palestine, much-reduced American forces in the Middle East, growing use of renewable energy sources, and more democratic and/or Islamist governments in Arab states. The struggle between America and Bin Laden resembles that in Northern Ireland, in its use of religious prejudice and terrorist techniques. Such conflicts are not resolved; they are abandoned.

Chesham Bois, Buckinghamshire

Slav contribution

Sir: Bravo to the Celt Mel Davies (letter, 31 August) for pooh-poohing Stephen Burrows's misuse of the term "Anglo-Saxons" in the assertion (letter, 29 August) that without them "there would have been no liberation of Paris at all". In any case, no Allied victory in 1945 would have been possible without the incommensurable sacrifice of the Slavs and other components of the Soviet Union. Everyone sees noon at their doorway, as the French saying goes, and writes history accordingly.


Territorial ambitions

Sir: Brian Viner referred to the fish that fell on Knighton (property, 1 September). It was not the only miracle that day. The town moved from the Wales/Shropshire border to Herefordshire! Mind you, I don't blame him for trying to claim it.

Knighton, Powys