ALL Scottish school pupils have an entitlement to learn a foreign language. However, it is not mandatory and there is evidence that some schools do not encourage children to continue with a language after S2 in the secondary school.
Apart from the fact that this bars some pupils from studying certain courses at some universities, this seems very short sighted, and at odds with the Scottish Government’s vision of educated, cultured and literate Scots who can communicate with a variety of nationalities.
It’s probably true to say that languages have been undervalued in Scotland till now, but the benefits of knowing a foreign language are huge. As well as the enjoyment that comes from successfully communicating with other nationalities and receiving better service in hotels, restaurants and other services while abroad, the needs of business mean that competent linguists are a very valuable commodity.
Students of modern languages develop interpersonal skills as they work to communicate with others. Their skills make them ideal for any job that entails working with people or with language in general.
Scotland has, thanks to the GTCS standards for teacher registration, a highly qualified workforce of modern secondary foreign languages teachers who all have experience living in the countries where the languages they teach are spoken.
This allows them to introduce elements of culture to the pupils in order, not only to make them more aware of and appreciate other cultures, but also to compare and contrast them with their own culture. Learning a foreign language also contributes to the development of overall literacy in learners.
Learners are encouraged to identify patterns in the language and compare and contrast them to their own language. Thus, pupils often gain a much deeper understanding of their own language through discussing the grammar of the foreign language.
Numeracy is also addressed as there is a big focus on numbers as learners learn how to ask for quantities, discuss prices and times in the foreign language.
Through learning a foreign language pupils learn how to learn: they develop memorisation skills, decoding strategies, collaborative and presentation skills.
It’s encouraging that the government has made such a strong commitment to modern languages to bring us in line with other European countries.
• Hazel Crichton is a lecturer in modern languages at Glasgow University