Passport to a world of opportunity – now you're talking

THERE are now at least 90 languages spoken in Scotland. Gaelic, Polish, Mandarin, French, German, Urdu and Punjabi – all are part of an ever-shrinking world and one where the language of global business is not necessarily English.

And there are changing demands at home, with health care, legal and local government sectors increasingly having to accommodate diverse languages.

Last Saturday marked European Day of Languages and the Council of Europe said learning languages was a way of developing curiosity, avoiding stereotyping and promoting cultural dialogue.

So what languages should pupils be learning in Scottish schools to prepare them for leading post-recession Scotland and understanding other cultures? Does it even matter, so long as they have more than one?

One of the newest additions to pupil choice for languages is Mandarin, through eight Confucius Classrooms set up across the country.

Margaret Harper, depute head teacher at Grange Academy, which offers the language to three local authorities, says pupils and parents are thinking ahead to the long-term benefits of being able to speak Mandarin, because they see the future of employment may hinge on a Chinese base.

"I think parents see the economy shifting and changing and greater opportunities for employment skills with Mandarin," Ms Harper says.

The shared campus in Kilmarnock, which includes Annanhill Primary and Park School, used to provide either French or German in S1 and S2, but has now shifted to French and Chinese.

Ms Harper says: "Pupils choose Mandarin because it's different, but they enjoy it. Some pupils are coming here because Chinese is on offer.

"I think we recognise that there would be a need to start exposure to the language at an even earlier age. The earlier young people are exposed, the more competent they become."

Learning and Teaching Scotland (LTS) says the Curriculum for Excellence ensures pupils are looking outward with languages such as Chinese, but also to home with Gaelic.

Bernard McLeary, chief executive of LTS, says: "One of the core principles of Curriculum for Excellence is to ensure that our children and young people are prepared to live in a globalised world.

"They need to be equipped with a variety of skills that will serve them well in today's rich and multicultural society. Reflecting this, LTS is working together with a range of partners to promote the use of languages such as Mandarin and Gaelic in education.

"The establishment of the eight Confucius hubs has allowed schools and local authorities across Scotland to work together to develop closer links with the world's fastest-growing economy.

"Children in these hubs have embraced it as an opportunity to discover something different and develop skills they want for later in life."

One of the leaders in expanding the Gaelic language is the Glasgow Gaelic School, this year marking its tenth anniversary.

Next year the first pupils will graduate from the school, and head teacher Donalda McComb says the language base they've gained will help them succeed.

"Parents send their children here from word of mouth and we have children from all over the city and from different religions. We are developing citizens that have two views on the world," she says.

In fact, pupils have three views as they add French to the mix of languages, something much easier to learn once they have confidence with Gaelic, says Mrs McComb.

Taking Gaelic and learning about the associated music, art and history also gives pupils a pride in their country.

"It's part of the preservation of a language," says Mrs McComb. "We try to instil a sense of pride of how important it is to Scotland as a nation. It's something we should feel is useful and there are benefits from using it."

Business leaders recognise the benefits of having additional languages. Iain Ferguson, policy executive with CBI Scotland, says: "CBI Scotland warmly welcomes the fact that the curriculum is responding to the demands of employers, many of which are entering or developing their activities in growing international markets such as China and India.

"Foreign languages form an important part of Scottish pupils' education and these qualifications are highly prized by employers."

For Hamilton College, it is a dead language that they see as key to developing core English skills, and preparing the doctors, veterinarians and lawyers of the future.

Arlene Holmes-Henderson enthusiastically fires Latin into her pupils and says it is often their first structured introduction to a language.

"They often come to first year and don't know what a verb is, or a noun," she says. She uses modern technology such as the Smart Response System to teach pupils. "Latin helps them engage with their own language more fully, and helps learn other modern Romance languages.

"I think Latin is an ideal companion to teaching basic literacy in English. And it is still used in medicine, veterinary medicine and law, and pupils find they have a head start at university with Latin.

"It also helps unpack technical terms and textbooks or in lectures."

All pupils at Hamilton study Latin in S1 and S2, and it is an option in later years. Ms Holmes-Henderson says it should be more widely available in Scottish schools, but there is a massive gap in the number of teachers. Only 30 teachers qualify each year in the UK to teach Latin, but there are 600 jobs needing to be filled, mostly in and around London.

Rebecca Russell, 17, is deputy head girl at Hamilton College and has continued her Latin studies, as well as French, in hopes of getting accepted to study medicine at the University of Edinburgh.

"It's looked on quite highly when you're applying for medicine," she says. "Even though I can't talk to people from different countries in Latin, it's really good to help with other subjects.

"It's necessary to have different languages in any career. I think having three languages I have a leg up."