Learning a second language is no longer compulsory in British schools. What do you think?


There has been a lot of talk this week about the way languages are taught in British schools, such as this article:

Anti-truancy drive removed French


What do you think about this? Is it okay because so many people learn English? Or do British children suffer from not developing any second language learning skills?



Heath's picture

Oh, I definitely think every person in the world should have to learn at least 2 languages. 

Perhaps the problem is that we always look at how practical it is, asking ourselves questions like:  "Are these kids every going to actually need to speak French?" 

But honestly, when I was in secondary school in Australia, it was compulsory to study, among other things, each of these:

  • history
  • geography
  • geometry
  • philosophy
  • biology
  • horticulture
  • agrictulure
  • metal work
  • cookery
  • sewing & knitting
  • English & English literature
  • social studies
  • commerce

The list goes on.  And which of those has been of any practical use in my life?  Pretty much none of them.

It's all about education in general and building awareness.  Learning another language does that just as successfully as any of the above, and it has the added benefit of throwing in some understanding.

yoke_sau's picture

The textual content of 72% of public
websites in 2002 was in English. The runner-up was German at just 7%
English is spoken as a native language by just 13% of the EU
population, but 51% of EU citizens speak it in total (Wikipedia).
Based on such figures, it is tempting for English-speakers to assume
there is no need to learn a second language. However, language
acquisition is not just about communicating.

Teaching a second language, be it
European or from further shores, broadens the mind. When a foreign
language is taught well, it inevitably involves teaching about the
culture around which the language evolved. Why do Malays call ice
"batu air" literally meaning "stone of water"?
What do Italians mean by "la bella figura"? The learner's
curiosity about the other culture is aroused and eventually cultural
tolerance is engendered.

sam1829's picture

People should definitely have this skill!! With the integration of more European countries, as well as the international system in general why shouldn't we? I think schools should start teaching languages to students at a younger age so it is not so difficult later on in their education. English people have a reputation for being bad at languages. Why should we make everyone else learn our language and not make the effort ourself? In my opinion languages make a person more interesting and they are a great skill to have!

sajacas's picture

When I was at school a foreign language, French or German was compulsory for only two years in the middle of secondary school. My younger brother, poor sod, had to learn both, but again only for the two years.

It's one of those things that everyone knows; young kids (3-6?) can pick up languages relatively easily. And looking back at teenage langauge learning, most British adults can only remember painful experiences. Hence the truanting, I suppose.

So why isn't language learning introduced at a younger age?

My experience with German at school was traumatic; and yes, at the time I thought why bother? As an adult, I look back and wish I had been brought up with languages, had kept up my German and taken it further.

Languages open doors!

Tania_13's picture

I'm a Spanish student doing English literature and language here in Britain. I was shocked by the fact that it is not compulsory to study a second language in school in Britain anymore and therefore decided to do my dissertation on this topic. I was about to start a discussion asking the same question when I saw the topic had already been raised.

I personally think you learn so much more than just a language! As it has been mentioned already, you learn about the culture, traditions, habits, etc. And it helps your mind. I've been brought up learning languages and I therefore can speak Spanish, Catalan, English, French and understand other languages just because I can speak these ones!

How can students see the importance of learning languages if they aren't informed or motivated to do so?

In all the other countries in the EU it is compulsory to learn a second language, why does Britain need to be different?

This in turn, forces the other countries to learn and teach English, since in general, British people can't communicate in other languages and this puts non-native speakers of English in disadvantage.

cmftrier's picture

Overall, my opinion is that everyone should learn a foreign language - mainly for the reasons others have cited above.
But I want to add one or two other comments on the discussion.
Firstly, regadrding children whose families have immigrated to the UK and are in the process of learning English so that they can complete their education and integrate into the society, I could possibly understand why it might not be helpful to put them into French, German, Spanish, etc classes straight away. I think moving to a new country, regardless of the background reasons for the move, is really hard for children and it is a struggle for them to learn the new language (in this case English) as soon as possible as it is, often without English being spoken in the home. Also, learning another MFL through the medium of English (which is how I'm sure it works in this case, sadly) would be even more difficutl for them. Here I could understand making an exception from MFL classses, since these children can speak English plus their native language anyway.
Secondly, I remember when I was at school doing A'levels in French and German - people thought I was crazy - TWO foreign languages! And the timetabling basically left out langauges, leaving the 3 of us on my German class to arrange extra times before and after school to squeeze in our lessons. The same in French. Back then, learning one MFL was compulsory, and yet those of us who decided to take that learning further than the compulsory GCSE were somehow not regarded as important or worth timetabling for. A few years later, my brother also had to take a language in school years 8 & 9. He had 1-2 hours of French per week, and then was allowed to give up after year 9. I'm sure if I asked him today what he'd learnt it would probably all have disappeared. I don't think an hour a week for a year or two is worthwhile - some might argue, that it's better not to waste that time not learning anything about French, and just give up those hours to a subject a child is really intersted in, or is going to have a bit more tuition in thatn just 1-2 hours. I think this is the rationale behind why languages have been made optional now. Personally, my solution would have been to provide more time for language learning, but that's maybe why I'M a teacher and not a politician!!