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How can we increase uptake in languages?

Readers will be familiar with the crisis in recruitment to language courses in the UK, whether it be GCSE, A-level or university. At GCSE the Ebacc has temporarily arrested the decline, at A-level the number of candidates has been in freefall since the 1990s, whilst university languages departments have been closing in alarming numbers. Linguists wring their hands over this issue, economists warn us of the consequences of a shortage in language specialists and politicians occasionally talk up languages while doing very little in terms of policy. When there is a worthy initiative, such as primary languages, it is not followed through with resources.

Is this just a fact of British or anglophone life? After all we are in the arguably privileged position of speaking the world's favourite language. Or are there practical steps which could be taken to raise the status and take-up of languages and, in so doing, offer a broader education and better life chances to young people? Here are my homespun ideas:

  • Address the issue of unfair grading. Use the new GCSE exams to put languages on a level playing field with other subjects.
  • Broaden the post 16 curriculum so that more students can include a language in their portfolio of post 16 subjects. England is an outlier. Our curriculum is absurdly narrow.
  • Make a GCSE or equivalent a necessary condition for going to many universities. Offer a time scale for this.
  • Stop trying to make language exams harder. They are hard enough already and too hard for many.
  • Improve language teacher training and CPD so that there is more consistency of practice. There are too many poor lessons.
  • Stop (in effect) cutting school budgets so schools can afford to lay on courses in languages and employ language assistants.
  • Improve timetabling of languages to allow for more time and more spaced learning. One size does not fit all when it comes to school timetables.
  • Put a greater focus on listening and speaking (practical communication) at all levels. Stop thinking that these are less academically challenging.
  • Return to near total compulsion for languages at GCSE. (A broadened post 16 curriculum might male GCSE redundant anyway.
  • Support primary languages with proper resources, time and, where needed, specialist teachers.
  • Get politicians to talk about languages the way they talk about STEM.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


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