School policy 'undervalues' community languages

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Fri Sep 23 12:25:10 UTC 2005

School policy 'undervalues' community languages
(Read the full text of the report here: (pdf)

Donald MacLeod
Thursday September 22, 2005

Guardian Unlimited

While the decline of language learning in British schools is being
lamented, the growth of community languages spoken by ethnic minorities is
an "overlooked asset", says a report published today. Mainstream primary
and secondary schools offer at least 19 languages, either as part of the
curriculum or as after-hours provision, according to Cilt, the National
Centre for Languages. And ethnic minority communities make their own
provision for teaching 55 different languages across the UK.

Nearly 40,000 students gained a qualification in a community language this
year (the largest numbers in Urdu, Chinese, Irish Gaelic and Arabic) but
few providers considered these skills as valuable for students' future
careers. The report argues that learning a community language has the same
educational benefits as learning French or German.

"Many of the benefits which modern languages specialists recognise in
students who gain competence in languages, such as French, German or
Spanish, apply equally to those who speak community languages, such as
Urdu, Chinese or Greek. "These include increased awareness of and interest
in the wider world, greater confidence in communicating in a range of
different contexts, enhanced understanding of cultural differences and a
willingness to engage with people and ideas from elsewhere in the world.

"These are personal qualities of value in themselves, but also are clearly
of considerable worth in a business context. A key issue for the UK in the
age of globalisation is which languages are likely to be of most benefit
for the economy, for trade, and for international relations in the 21st
century. Some of the most widely spoken and studied community languages -
Urdu,Turkish, Chinese Bengali and Arabic - are likely to be on that list,"
said the report. The research, led by Joanna McPake of Stirling
University, said studies of intelligence showed bilingual children
performed better than their monolingual peers in a range of tests and
children who learned a community language at school, like Gaelic in
Scotland, did at least as well - if not better - than children who spoke
only English.

Isabella Moore, the director of Cilt, said: "This summer, business leaders
drew attention to our country's need for capability in a wider range of
languages. Yet 9% of our secondary school children and over 10% of primary
children already speak another language at home, and many more have one in
their family background. "By encouraging students to develop their
existing knowledge we will be building up an important skills base, as
well as raising educational achievement."

Dr McPake said schools did not always appreciate the value of maintaining
and developing language skills other than English. "Both mainstream and
complementary schools underestimate the practical value of other languages
for students' future careers." The report noted widespread concern about
the decline of languages in British schools and universities. But, it
said: "The UK has a major linguistic asset not currently sufficiently
recognised in language policy and planning: children from multilingual
communities across the UK who are growing up with a knowledge of
languages, such as Panjabi, Polish, Somali or Yoruba, in addition to

"Some of these children study their languages at school and many more in
complementary classes after school or at weekends." The study found that
in Scotland, at least 11,000 children between five and 18 speak at least
104 languages. In Wales, at least 8,000 children speak at least 98
languages and in England, at least 702,000 children speak at least 300
languages.  Guardian Newspapers Limited 2005,3858,5291770-110908,00.html

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