Vanessa Paradis taught me the French I know

AS A pubescent schoolboy, I studied French for two years, but all I could say was: "Le ballon est tombe les fleurs". Despite several sojourns to France, I was never once asked the whereabouts of a football. I learned more of the language by lip-synching to 1980s chart hit Joe Le Taxi. The video - featuring a nubile Vanessa Paradis - provided excellent visual stimulation for learning.

Lads didn't like languages in the 1970s and today, according to Tim Steward, manager of Language Network Scotland, a government-funded advisory group, boys perceive the study of foreign languages as "gay stuff for women". It would be easy to dismiss the comment as homophobic nonsense, but who can ever forget the monochrome footage of JFK, one hand on hip, the other flicking his quiff, lisping the immortal words: "Ich bin ein Berlinner"?

Steward speaks French, German, Japanese and strong language. He deplored the "monolingual, self-complacent and self-satisfied" attitude of Scots youngsters to learning a new tongue, a comment that greatly upset some of my fine young people who said: "He's a daftie knowing aw they wies o'talkin because when ye go yer holidays, aw they foreigners kin speak Scoattish."

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

In an effort to engage with young males, Steward highlighted how the macho world of footballers had changed as a result of the continental drift of players. I felt it a tad unfortunate he presented Gary Lineker and David Beckham - perhaps the two most effete footballers - as examples of sportsmen learning new languages.

He had my support when he called for MSPs to do more to show their language skills, although I believe he was referring to a foreign language rather than English. As one who has sat in the Holyrood gallery, I'd rather listen to a monologue in Montenegrin than have my aural faculties assaulted by the sinful syntax of Rosie Kane et al.

But other than hanging recalcitrant male pupils from the lampposts pour encourager les autres, I fail to see how the decline in learning a modern language can be reversed. Some schools have dropped languages as a compulsory subject in S3-4, much to the delight of most pupils, in my experience. I smell more than a whiff of hypocrisy emanating from those bemoaning the absence of male rats in the language labs. Before 1992, language teaching was a cushy number, reeking of elitism. Only the academically gifted were deemed acceptable candidates and most of them were malleable females with impeccable manners. This stoked disquiet down in the boiler room where S2 option advisers shovelled slow-learners, fast-forgetters and other assorted, largely male, untermenschen into modern studies and other "easy" subjects.

Some language departments have made efforts to rebrand the subject, with schools offering a menu of European lingoes. Conversational Spanish is popular, even if the conversation is likely to be "Dos San Miguel por favor, ya dobber".

In my opinion, it's counter-productive to peddle the lie that bilingualism is key to a successful career in business. Money talks - just ask Tessa Jowell's estranged husband, Mr Mills. His ignorance of Italian led to his understandably mistaken belief that the 350k cheque he received was a present.

Garons, ou est le ballon? It's been kicked into the long grass along with learning a foreign language.