I would like to see a ban on compulsory language teaching in primary schools. Let me stress before I begin, however, that I in no way advocate that foreign languages are a bad thing, nor do I believe that their study has no place in our society. Indeed I think that foreign language study is of vital importance to our development, both on a personal level and for society in general. Let me explain:
The UK government intends to allow youngsters in secondary schools to drop the study of a modern foreign language at the age of 14, presumably with a view to dropping the subjects from the curriculum altogether.
Charles Clarke, the former UK secretary of state for education said during a BBC interview: “The people we are talking about at 14 are people who haven’t got any familiarity with foreign languages at all and really aren’t gaining anything from it.” He continued to say, “There is little point in forcing students to go through the process of learning a foreign language when they really are completely switched off as I’m afraid a number of children are.”
And this is the sad reality. As I’m sure the opposition will tell us, foreign languages are increasingly useful in today’s rapidly globalising world. But there is no point forcing adolescents into unpopular subjects. As I’m sure you will agree, the bone-dryness of verb tables and noun lists puts many pupils off for life, so much so that only 11% of 16 year olds carry on to A-level.
The government is now focusing on captivating the attention of children at a young age. However, only 21% of primary schools offer some form of language teaching. Frequently, schools cite the reason that fulfilling the statutory requirements of the national curriculum is more important than teaching foreign languages.
Most teachers of languages in primary schools do not have languages as their main responsibility and the subjects are being hampered by teachers’ lack of time, training and subject knowledge.
Teaching children foreign languages when they are either bluntly opposed to it or are simply indifferent merely clogs up their brains, taking time away from their other, more important studies. Of course we can benefit from modern languages; of course we can. But we should allow people to study them by choice, when they fully understand what the relevance of the language is and how it will help them personally.