MEP urges action against decline in language learning

24/09/2013 | Hayley

A member of the European Parliament has called for action to be taken to turn around the decline in language learning currently being witnessed in the UK.

Cambridge News reports that Richard Howitt MEP is keen to reverse the recent fall in the linguistic abilities of UK students. He says this is particularly important given how reliant the country is on European trade.

The recent drop-off in language learning has been significant, with Mr Howitt noting there was a 30 per cent reduction in the number of universities in the UK running French degree courses. In addition, a 50 per cent drop had been recorded in the number of universities offering German courses. Away from higher education a decline has been noted in the number of young people studying these languages for A-level.

There may be an assumption that as English is the leading language for business there is no need to learn another. However, Mr Howitt attests that being able to speak more than one language is still a vital ability. “The case for young British people to learn an EU foreign language is so important, given that more than half of the UK’s trade is with the rest of Europe and our businesses need staff who can speak the language of their customers,” he explains.

Cambridge is one city that is putting a significant emphasis on language learning. The news resource reports that a spokesperson for Cambridge University’s exam board moderator Cambridge Assessment says there has been a recent “dramatic” increase in the number of pupils choosing to study a language at GCSE level. They added that if a student really wants to succeed in a globalized economy; they will need to be able to speak at least one additional language, “even allowing for English being a world language”.

“Employers need to be clearer about the advantages of having a GCSE or A level in language – perhaps by favouring interviewees who have such a qualification or even rejecting those who don’t,” the spokesperson explained. Without incentivising students, it would be difficult to get them to change their perception, they concluded.

This Thursday (September 26th) marks the European Day of Languages. This is an event championed by the Council of Europe, and the initiative is now in its 12th year.

The aim of the event is to promote languages as a necessary skill for everyone, and to ensure that all Europeans have the right to learn them. The Council of Europe points out that opportunities to secure work in one of the other member countries are plentiful, but that without being able to speak the national language, people will be unable to take advantage of this.

Language qualifications not only enable employees to work abroad, but also to work more effectively in the UK. The Council states that English is not enough in these days of globalization, particularly when operating on a continent where more than 200 languages are spoken. By being able to speak just a few words of a different language, people can improve their abilities to make contacts.

Last year, the European Day of Languages was marked with a film competition aimed at young people in the UK. Students aged 13 to 21 were invited to make a two-minute film in which they demonstrated how important language skills were. The winners of the Language and Film Talent Awards were unveiled at a ceremony at London’s British Film Institute, and included an entry from Lincoln Christ’s Hospital School.

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