[EDLING:157] EducationGuardian.co.uk: Cuts drive adults out of language classes
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Wed May 23 12:07:56 UTC 2007
Francis Hult spotted this on the EducationGuardian.co.uk site and thought you should see it.
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Cuts drive adults out of language classes
Half a million fewer adults are learning a foreign language than a decade ago, a new study shows. Peter Kingston reports
Tuesday May 22 2007
Although more Britons are travelling abroad than ever before, half a million fewer adults in the UK are learning foreign languages than a decade ago, according to a new survey. Of those adults who are learning a language in the UK, a quarter are studying English. Since the last national review in 1999, English has knocked German out of the top three languages being studied. The other two most popular remain French and Spanish.
Adult language learners conform to gender type: women are more likely than men to sign up for a class, or will have a friend teach them, while more men choose to learn alone, using home study courses on cassette, CD or DVD. More women than men are learning another language to communicate with their family or their partner's family, while more men are doing it to benefit their career.
"Language learning in the UK is complicated, and this survey shows that the complexity is increasing," say the compilers of Figures of Speech, the 2007 survey on languages by the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (Niace), published for Adult Learners' Week.
"More languages are spoken, more people have more than one language, and different groups have different motivations and patterns of learning."
People from ethnic minority populations outshine white groups as language learners. More than half have learned another language as an adult, and 78% learned another language as a child. By contrast, only 27% of those with English as their mother tongue have studied a language as an adult.
People from ethnic minorities are more likely to study non-European languages. Those with English as a mother tongue tend to learn European languages and to be younger adults, from social classes AB and C1. Those least likely to learn languages are in lower social classes, older and white.
In 1999 Niace published a similar study of language learning, called Tongue-tied but Trying. Three years later, the government launched Languages for All: Languages for Life, a strategy seeking to motivate people to learn languages and give them more opportunities to do so.
Niace's latest study would suggest that this strategy has not been particularly successful. The opposite, in fact.
While 30% of the population have learned a language in the past as an adult, only 4% of adults are currently doing so. This is a slightly lower proportion than the 5% who were learning a language in 1999 but, say the compilers, "in terms of the whole UK adult population, it represents almost half a million people".
While the 1999 survey did not show a sizeable proportion of adults learning English, roughly a quarter of those now learning a language - 1% of the adult population - are doing so.
The government's funding priorities have resulted in cuts to adult language classes across the country. "They've had a very serious effect," says Paula Hobson, languages curriculum manager for Somerset's adult learning and leisure service. "The Learning and Skills Council sees languages as a low priority." Although Somerset has kept the cost of a one-hour lesson down to £3, numbers of students have fallen.
Next year, fees are likely to double, with a further anticipated loss of students.
According to the survey, only 18% of people learning another language do this by signing up to a course. The most popular way to learn another language - followed by 36% of learners - is by cassette or CD. Only 6% use the internet. Even fewer study through distance learning (4%) and television (3%).
Across the country, slightly more women than men are learning another language, and more women opt to do a course. This is borne out in Somerset, where only 30% of the people on its language courses are men. But then more women than men sign up for adult education in general, says Hobson. "Language classes have a higher proportion of men than classes overall do, apart from computer, keep-fit and sports classes," she says.
"Men are going to language classes because they are buying property abroad or going on holiday there. When I started teaching about 15 years ago, there would have been one or two, if any, in a class who cited property. Now up to a half are investigating buying a holiday home, or they've bought one."
The Niace survey asked how well people could speak foreign languages. Just under a third of those learning a foreign language said they could speak it fairly well, very well or were fluent; a fifth could read and speak competently and 15% could write anything they wanted.
Success rates are much higher for those learning English, as students are having to use the language in everyday life. Over half consider themselves fluent.
"The survey is cheering in showing how successfully adults acquire language skills," the compilers comment. "Old dogs can learn new tricks."
Hobson says she is amazed at how blithely people decide to buy property in another country without even a basic grasp of its language. "People are coming to me and saying they want to deal with lawyers and estate agents and they need to organise a septic tank. And they can barely order a beer."
More younger people than older say they want to learn another language. As a general rule, a greater proportion of people under 45 than over 45 want to tackle another language. Fewer than one in five respondents over 65 want to do so.
However, a lower proportion (35%) of 17- to 19-year-olds want to learn a language, compared with other age groups under 45. This, the compilers speculate, might have something to do with their being in the first cohort to have missed compulsory language learning to 16 at school.
The latest survey shows a change in the profile of the UK population since 1999, the compilers note. Nearly twice as many (11%) as in 1999 (6%) say English is not their first language. In 1999, only three languages other than English were spoken by more than 1% of the UK population: German, Punjabi and Welsh. That number has now increased to seven: Arabic, Bengali, Hindi, Polish, Urdu, Punjabi and Welsh.
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