There’s a lot of talk around learning a foreign language in school. There was a time when French was routinely taught – and in many schools Latin too, despite complaints that it was a dead language. The range of languages on offer has grown to include German, Spanish, Italian and even Russian – but many children find learning a language challenging.
The statistics from the latest EPI report into education funding for 16-19 year olds show that provision of foreign languages at A and AS level is falling. The demand has dropped and many students have opted out of languages.
The introduction of the English Baccalaureate (Ebacc) in 2010 requires 5 A*-C or 4-9 in five subjects including maths, English, the sciences, history or geography and a modern language. The government has set a target that 90% of pupils should enter to achieve the Ebacc award – and that means that a language is important.
While some children may find learning a language stressful, there’s no denying that it offers real benefits. Depending on the language chosen, it opens up horizons, so when the youngster gets to the age when they want to explore the world, they’ll be better able to communicate (the whole world doesn’t speak English, no matter how loudly you speak!)
Many nationalities speak French or Spanish, so being able to hold a simple conversation at least earns you the respect of the locals when on holiday in countries where you are able to use that language.
How can you help?
In the distant past when people wrote letters, it was common for young people to have a pen friend. This was someone in another country that you wrote to in their language (and vice-versa). Today’s children probably wouldn’t consider writing a letter, but finding someone to write to – even electronically – is easy with one of the pen friend websites or apps such as PenPal World.
If your kids are studying a language, why don’t you help them by getting involved? Get the whole family to learn the basics – there’s plenty of help online and a range of apps, some free, some paid for. Check out Duolingo for a selection of languages to get you started as a beginner.
Treat dinner time as a quiz when you start by learning the names for the tableware and different foods. As you all progress, you could ban speaking English at dinner so everyone has to be able to ask for what they want in your chosen language.
Better still, if you are still deciding on this year’s family holiday, choose a country where the language your youngster is learning is spoken. Encourage them to help you in shops, restaurants, at the hotel, the airport, etc.
Getting involved in learning a language – no matter what your age – will always stand you in good stead. You never know, you might enjoy it!