You only have to read any of the recent articles about the current state of Modern Foreign Language teaching in Britain to know that we have a language crisis in our schools. It is a depressing picture; fewer than half of British students took a GCSE in a modern language last year and only a third of pupils in state funded schools gained a grade C and above. There is a decline in the proportion of pupils going on to take modern language A Levels and only 4.5% of university students are dual linguists.
In Britain, a quarter of people are able to hold a basic conversation in another language, compared to over 90 percent of our northern European neighbours in the Netherlands, Sweden, and Luxembourg. The implications for the future are worrying, with fewer linguists available to enter the teaching profession and the future prosperity of our country, post-Brexit, depending on our ability to communicate in other languages. Recent studies have shown that graduates with language skills are more employable than those without. According to the CBI/Pearson Education and Skills Survey 2015, the majority of employers remain concerned about the national deficit in foreign language skills. The UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) Skills Survey 2015 said that employers noted shortages in areas such as problem solving, customer relations and persuading and influencing – some of the transferable skills acquired through having contact with another culture in another language and through overseas experience. In an article in TES, Vicky Gough, schools adviser at the British Council, said: “Languages are invaluable for a generation growing up in an increasingly connected world. If the UK is to be truly global post-Brexit, languages must become a national priority. At a time when global connections matter more than ever, it is worrying that the UK is facing a languages deficit. We cannot afford the apathy around the need for languages to continue and must champion these skills.”
Here at Ipswich High School we believe that languages offer pupils a complete 21st century skills-set with which to go out into the world. In the fiercely competitive global job market, our pupils will hold an advantage by gaining a qualification in a modern language to at least GCSE level. Learning from our European neighbours who start learning languages in primary school, we have introduced a core language starting from the age of three in our Pre-Prep, continuing through to Year 6 and then transitioning into Senior School. We are already seeing the benefits in terms of confidence and levels of motivation amongst our younger pupils. Indeed, modern foreign language learning underpins the principle values of our school:
We are Inspirational.
We aim to inspire pupils with our passion for the language they are learning through a mix of interactive tasks, authentic resources and specialist subject knowledge. Some of our teachers are experienced examiners and this offers an insight into how examination boards mark particular papers and informs our preparation for them. In addition to lessons, we invite pupils to subscribe to a language magazine, attend plays performed by native speakers from a visiting theatre company and take part in film and literature clubs, making use of foreign language books and DVDs in our Learning Resources Centre. Last year we inaugurated the MFL Festival Week in March with creative activities for each year group, guest speakers including a translation specialist and a visiting speaker from the German Embassy. We held a theatre workshop where we watched French musical, Notre Dame. The grand finale was undoubtedly the Lingo Talent contest which saw our students performing songs, dances, poetry reading and sketches in each of the languages we study in school. Not only was it fun, but it showcased dedication and hidden talents that the pupils did not even realise they had. This year we hope to have an even greater range of activities including taster sessions to encourage parents to have a go at a new language themselves.
We are Respectful.
Learning about other cultures fosters tolerance and empathy as well as opening your mind to new experiences. Our trips abroad are aimed to promote this cultural awareness as well as actual language practice. This year the French Department will be taking pupils to Normandy; the German department is going to Berlin on a cross-curricular trip with the History Department; Chinese Mandarin will be exploring the culture of China Town in London; the Spanish Department will be welcoming pupils from a Spanish school as part of an exchange.
We are Courageous
To be a successful language learner you have to take risks. This encourages resilience and perseverance – experiencing failure and learning through mistakes is the way to embed elements of a new language into your long term memory. We want our pupils to embrace the concept of saying, “I don’t understand yet” instead of simply saying, “I don’t understand”.
Traditionally, pupils who go on to study languages at university are required to spend a year abroad to deepen understanding of both the culture and language. Nowadays, this opportunity to experience a year in another country is not just confined to language pupils as courses in other disciplines, such as engineering, also offer a work placement abroad in industry. Pupils who embrace this challenge find that it is an excellent character building experience and encourages independence.
We are Ambitious
Just look where languages can take you! We are proud of the career paths that our previous students have followed. These range from working for high profile businesses in the UK and other European countries, international schools, international banking and law. Let us not forget those who having been inspired at school, have chosen to take up the baton and pass on their language skills to the next generation through teaching.
As a department, we truly believe in the empowering potential of language learning and will continue to champion its cause.