Tongue tie

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HAVING passed Highers in two foreign languages and spent 20 years travelling in more than 50 countries in six continents, I disagree with Dr Alasdair Allan (Letters, 1 May) on the value of school language teaching. My school studies were of little help. When I lived in Indonesia, however, I learned its languages in a few weeks.

For most people learning a new language needs strong motivation and willingness to spend many hours on boring study. A few hours a week in class and some homework does not suffice. Moreover, most of what is learned is soon forgotten if it is not frequently used.

Where bilingualism is common, as in India, Africa, Scandinavia and the Netherlands, it is because both languages are ­regularly used.

Knowing another language has value but one will know much more about many places by studying geography, a subject which many pupils give up after S3. That should cause far more concern than the situation with foreign languages.

The argument that our external trade will need many more British people with foreign language competence is weak. Most organisations use native speakers to communicate with customers and the public. Of the thousands in the UK who work in foreign-owned companies, only a tiny proportion speak the first language of their employers. I doubt that even most of their senior executives do.

John Munro

Buccleuch Street

Glasgow