Language education policy in the UK: Is English the elephant in the room?
(by Dr Ursula Lanvers, Open University, UK)
(And elephant in the room is a metaphor describing something that people are aware of existing, but are uncomfortable to talk about and rather avoid the subject)
There is a contradiction between what is said and what is happening. In other words, even though officially there's a lot of talk and 'action' promoting the people in UK learn foreign languages, people don't do so. Why is that? Have the attempts to increase language take-up been serious enough? Do people in UK actually think that it is essential and necessary for the UK to raise profiency in foreign languages?
In her research, Ursula Lanvers, has come to a conclusion that there is a assumption that English alone is enough and people in general are not at all convinced that there is need to promote other languages.
Language education policies
There has been many goverment initiatives (The National Languages Strategy for England, 2002: Languages for all: languages for life)
supporting community languages, promoting careers by promoting languages at work etc.
Reports and reviews:
The Dearing Report, 2007 with some recommendations.
Nuffield Enquiry 2000, conclusion: 'English is not enough', with several recommendations towards that, (e.g language supremo)
National Languages Strategy, 2002
Lots have happened on Secondary sector too:
GCSE = ISCED
2004: 14+ compulsory language learning abolished in England
GCSE results: 71% of pupils achieved Grade A* – C grades in 2009
Steady increase from 1994 (about 53%) to 2009
- A level = ISCED level 3 results:
Those who do language for A levels get very high grades in general. Huge increase of good marks especially on languages.
Multilingual UK – Community languages
14.3% of primary school children and 10,6% of secondary school children speak a first language other than English (2008)
- UK Language skills: some figures Eurobarometer 2006 are quite embarrassing for the UK, for example: Average number of foreign languages studied at school per student:
- A level: UK 0,1, while Finland 2,7
For Primary languages there is no curriculum – only suggested framework
- no specialist teachers
- very narrow selection of languages ( 2008: French 89% school, Spanish 25%, German 10%)
- very few take "community language GCSE"
- Low uptake, low status
High education sector
Many language department s have been closed, (UWE, Belfast, Sussex) and language programmes have been closed.
The rhetoric is politically correct, has emphasis on qualifications not proficiency and there are initiatives and reports on this subject, BUT the reality is rather different.
When looking at the news and media texts some interesting discourses start to emerge.
UK poor linguistic skills are recognized there (One headline: "UK heads for bottom of the class for poor linguistic skills")
and also the students voices echo this. In many ways the students are well ahead of what the politicians have figured out.
The students are highly aware of negative attitude towards languages and about the fact that global English demotivates them.
"English is enough – English language is the global language" –assumption seems to emerge here and there, although it is never mentioned in any official papers.
For example Gordon Brown has said (2008), "… If you have skills, educated in Britain, you can work almost anywhere in the world", which obviously refers to the language.
What to do?
- acknowledge global English as potential threat and demotivator to UK language learning
- address the fallacy publicly: losses to UK
In the discussion and comments coming from the audience, it was noted that it would be very important not to raise awareness only among the citizens but also of the politicians too.
What about language marketing for spreading multilingualism?
As it had already come evident there have already been many initiatives with good recommendations, but it has not lead to proper action – lots of words, yet not much has happened.