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Saturday, 16 February, 2002, 10:30 GMT
School changes: What do you think?
The government has announced targets which will introduce modern language lessons to all primary schools in England.

By 2010 every child from the age of seven upwards should be entitled to language lessons.

There will also be 200 more specialist modern language schools for secondary pupils, to be created in the next three years.

Other government plans could see high-flying students by-passing GCSEs and moving straight onto AS levels before the age of 16.

The new fast-track approach is part of the government's Green Paper on secondary education, which aims to give students in England greater freedom from the compulsory curriculum.

Are these proposals the answer to reforming the education system?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Your reaction

I believe that the way that young people in Britain are taught is in need of examination. The idea that all children should be taught a foreign language from an early age is wonderful, however is it practicable? It is still the case today in this country that many children advance to secondary school without being able to read English. How then are these children expected to learn another, secondary language, when the primary schools in which they were taught were not able to teach them their mother tongue? Children aren't being taught the basics well enough to provide a secure ground on which to build on, basics such as maths and English. It is unfair to ask teachers, and students to try and fit more into their days, when there obviously isn't time enough (or resources?) for what is there presently.
Kelsey Shaw, Oxford, England

Has anyone thought to consider those pupils who speak English as a 2nd language?

Vince, England
I think that Key Stage 2 is the time for introducing a foreign language to bright, able kids but not for those who have yet to grasp the basics of English. Has anyone thought to consider those pupils who speak English as a 2nd language - does this proposal mean that they have to learn a 3rd language?

As for the option of dropping a language at 14, I think this would be a serious mistake as in the jobs market, those people who can speak more than one language are at a distinct advantage to those who can't. However a major problem is that there are not enough MFL teachers as it is - are we expecting Primary teachers who in most cases are not trained to teach MFL to make up the difference?
Vince, England

Many studies suggest that language learning works best before the age of 10, so not starting it until secondary school is ludicrous. I would say that earlier is better, and that pupils should learn a second language as soon as they start primary school at age 4 or 5. It would be nice to see a greater variety of languages offered too; there is more to the world than English, French, Spanish and German!
Neil Gratton, England

If only learning a foreign language was so easy! I believe there are two serious obstacles for the English-speaking world in learning a foreign language. First of all it requires more than one or two hours in a classroom each week. It needs a real exposure to the language concerned via TV, radio, newspapers, journals and actually having the opportunity to speak it. The second problem, related to the first is which language to learn? Whichever is chosen be it French, German, Spanish then it will be of limited use abroad. Learn French but that¿s no good in Germany etc. For the non-English-speaking world these difficulties are greatly reduced - if you chose a language to learn, that¿s easy - English. It is useful not just in the English-speaking world but in all other countries too. A German can speak to an Indian or a Japanese can speak with a Dutchman. In addition the foreign student can often enjoy a much greater exposure to English in his home country than ever a Briton can to a foreign language in the UK.
Fenton, England

How will these new proposals support children with learning difficulties or those who are disaffected with education? Shouldn't the Government be targeting pupils who are under-achieving and helping to raise their standards rather than giving more to high achievers, thus widening the gap.
Paula, UK

What education needs is a decade or so of stability.

Simon Watkins, Wales
When GCSE's were first brought in, it was to replace O' levels and GCSE's with one standard exam for everyone rather than a two tier system. At the time, concerns were raised on the difficulty of setting courses suitable for the whole spectrum of ability. If "brighter" students are now to take different exams, what was the point in replacing O levels and GCSE's in the first place ? What education needs is a decade or so of stability rather than this constant cycle of "change for the sake of change".
Simon Watkins, Wales, UK

Just who is going to teach these foreign languages? We already have a shortage of secondary sector language teachers. The one thing that stands a chance of improving the quality of British education is a 3-5 year moratorium on government education initiatives!
Andy Callan, UK

Most of the comments on this debate relate to the changes in languages. I think the other changes are far more important.
Dropping GCSEs for brighter children is a mistake. Typically we study 8-10 subjects to this level, but a maximum of 6 to AS level. At the ages of 12 to 16 it is vital that we give our children as broad a spectrum of learning as possible. It is far too early to specialise at 16, let alone younger than that.
Secondly, the introduction of A-Distinction grades at A-levels. We are continually told that our A-levels are not dumbed down, which I tend to agree with. What has happened though, is that the syllabus has narrowed and the style and content of the questions is a lot more predictable than it was 20 years ago, which leads to the higher pass mark. This is mainly because GCSEs underwent a similar squeeze during the transition from O-levels, so those educating our 17 and 18 year olds have a narrower base on which to build.
Keith, UK

The ability to speak a foreign language opens so many doors.

Nicci, Germany
The ability to speak a foreign language opens so many doors. English may be the world's second language but if it is your only language, the majority of the world's job markets will be closed to you. Learning a foreign language often has a positive effect on your skills in your native language, and the earlier you start the easier it is.

Many English people seem to assume that if they go abroad everybody from the taxi driver to the checkout girl will be able to speak English. Why shouldn't a French, German or Spanish speaking person experience the same when they visit Britain?

I believe that if we started teaching our children about the languages and cultures of other countries at an earlier age, they would grow up to be more open-minded, less insular - qualities lacking somewhat in Britain in my opinion.
Nicci, Germany (ex-UK)

People should learn a second language like they learnt their native language - by listening and speaking. Children become fluent speakers long before they can read, write or understand the rules of grammar. The written word should not be introduced until a level of fluency is attained.
S Smith , UK

There's one thing you can say about government - it's not scientific. If it was, they'd give each new reform time to prove itself, but I suppose it's easier to constantly meddle so no one can pick out your particular reform to blame in the future. As for bright kids skipping GCSEs, isn't Labour supposed to be against selection?
Graham Auty, England

All these people stating that we shouldn't have to learn foreign languages "because English is the world language" are out of their minds. Why do you think so much of the non-English speaking world doesn't like us? It's because we can't be bothered to learnt their languages! If we actually bothered to sit down and learn to be able to talk to foreigners in their native languages I'm sure it would make them much happier.
English is NOT the most widely spoken language in the World Mandarin is.
Gwen Mtambirwa, UK

I think the moves are a step in the right direction. To say that languages aren't important as English is the dominant language is arrogant to say the least. However, another one of the Government's announcements was to allow less able pupils to give up languages earlier so that they can concentrate on more practical, work related subjects. I think that this is a good move as it allows them to focus on skills that might actually enable them to get a job when they leave school, rather than sitting purely academic exams which they're never going to pass. What's the point of teaching such pupils French when they can hardly read or write English?

I wonder if these proposals will just turn out to be wishful thinking

Ian Liddle, England
I am intrigued to discover how the Government intend to staff schools so that (a) they have modern language specialists available to teach all eligible pupils in primary schools and (b) they have classes of an economically viable size in secondary schools where they are trying to provide "high-flyer" classes for those students who are talented enough to take AS-levels early. When timetabling constraints are combined with teacher shortages, I wonder if these proposals will just turn out to be wishful thinking.
Ian Liddle, England

Stop arguing - can't politicians of this country devise a system that works and stick with it? I wake up to Radio 4 each morning, each day there is a new political debate - but where are the results? Is UK a nation of whingers and non-doers?
Nelson, London, UK

To answer the question you ask - No. I don't think these proposals will reform. They will damage a system that is reeling from decades of ill-advised Government meddling, combined with chronic under-funding. Whether any of the proposals are good or bad matters little. They won't be delivered. For example, 200 specialist language schools in 3 years. How? Try recruiting modern language teachers for existing schools - it's almost impossible.
Derek Thornton, England

One good aspect is that "skipping" GCSEs by bright students would make the GCSE league tables pointless! However those taking AS levels at secondary schools and then moving on to A2 at Sixth Form College will often face huge problems due to incompatible specifications (syllabuses). Instead it may be necessary to move year 11 students into sixth form colleges to do their AS-levels; but at what expense to their secondary schools? Many of my colleagues in education predicted the problems of Curriculum 2000. These new plans house similar pitfalls - let's hope that they are better thought through! However a move to a 14-19 integrated curriculum has to be right and deserves support.
Ken Dunn, England

I am a part-time teacher, teaching 4 days a week. Since I was last in school I have counted four announcements by the Government relating to education viz engineering GCSE, leisure and tourism on the syllabus, fast-tracking pupils to omit GCSEs and language teaching from 7. With initiatives being launched at this rate is it any wonder that teachers feel over-stretched?
Chris Burrows, Great Britain

The existing English system forces pupils to limit their education

Susie, England
I was educated in Scotland where, in senior school, we had to study at least one language for three years (to standard grade level) and then most people take it on to do a higher in it. Because we do many more subjects at one time in Scotland you get a much broader education. For example I obtained highers in maths, English, physics, biology, French and German and I now work as an engineer. I can still remember my modest French and German. I think that the existing English system forces pupils to limit their education - since most only do three A-levels. Changing this system so that more subjects can be studied to a higher level for longer will help.
Susie, England

The way languages are taught in schools has much to do with the average Brit's linguistic incompetence. When I went to France as a teenager I found I was unable to hold even a basic conversation with a French person, even though I'd been supposedly learning French for three years. Why? Because we had spent two hours a week learning how to conjugate written verbs instead of actually learning to speak the language. Start kids off with conversational languages at primary school - then they will have a chance.
Andy, UK

Instead of wasting time trying to modernise the education system with frequent so-called initiatives and radical reforms would it not be better for the government to concentrate its efforts on improving the resources and teaching standards within the actual schools. Would everyone not be grateful for some stability and consistency so everyone knew what each qualification was worth?
Andrew, UK

Another education minister, another education plan. Any suggestions for next year's vote winner? On no I forgot, next year it's the turn of the defence minister to change everything.
Barry P, England

A transparent attempt to shove under the carpet evidence of a failing education system

Chris B, England
I am puzzled as to how the government will create 200 specialist language schools within three years, when it has illustrated an alarming inability to maintain and staff the schools we already have. The proposal to allow students to bypass GCSE might well be viewed as a transparent attempt to shove under the carpet hard evidence of a failing education system: in other words, deteriorating GCSE results for those perceived to be "brighter" pupils.

If the independent litmus test of these intermediate exams vanishes, so does an independent and objective means of identifying in good time the pupil's academic strengths and weaknesses. The abandoning of GCSEs for many pupils will be viewed as a clumsy attempt to lighten the load upon the beleaguered Edexcel exam body. This package of implausible proposals speaks of a panicking government tinkering experimentally with an education system that it is incapable of managing effectively.
Chris B, England

The national curriculum was never intended to be a speed test

Kenneth Fryde, United Kingdom
The concept of "fast-tracking" teenage pupils epitomises what is wrong with our education system. I'm a primary school teacher and was trained to challenge brighter pupils to think more deeply about the subject matter the class is working on, rather than rushing them through the syllabus in a pre-determined way. The national curriculum was never intended to be a speed test. Why not give these students the chance to carry out more in-depth research/artistic/enterprise or community projects, depending on their area of excellence? Wouldn't this approach give teenagers the best chance to develop their skills - by allowing them to accomplish work of unique merit at a time of life when they are particularly anxious to mark themselves out as individuals?
Kenneth Fryde, United Kingdom

I think the government is spot on this time. With regard to the language issue, shifting the learning to an earlier age will certainly result in greater linguistic competence. As for opting out of GCSEs, I was a high flyer and felt that 50% of my GCSEs were just "fillers" and a waste of time. I think that the keener pupils should be given the chance to sacrifice some lessons and GCSE exams to get some genuine industry experience.
Brendan Fernandes, UK

Never mind A-level distinction, just cut out a few stages and call it a degree

Paul C, England
As soon as one set of bureaucrats tries to restore some kind of differential such as A-level distinction, another set of bureaucrats lowers the standards so that everyone passes. The answer is simple. Scrap useless subjects like languages, history and arts and just have people study media studies (got to give everyone a chance). Never mind A-level distinction, just cut out a few unnecessary stages and call it a degree instead. The logical follow-on is that our universities can then be used for research (e.g. into what's wrong with the examination system) and higher degrees only. Beds will be freed up in halls of residence thus solving NHS bed blocking problems. I suppose in a few years time, everyone would be leaving school with first class honours degrees, but maybe that would be a different government's problem.
Paul C, England

I am a parent of two primary school children, and a governor of a primary school. I think that language lessons in primary school are in principle a good idea, provided that:
(a) They are properly resourced (unlike the current early years initiative, which is costing us an appreciable proportion of our entire budget) and
(b) The teachers are left to schedule the lessons, rather than the literacy / numeracy hours approach, which boxes in the day to such an extent as to make delivery of the rest of the curriculum difficult.
Guy Chapman, UK

Why not sit the A-level when she is of a standard to do so?

S Munro-Crump, England
I firstly object to the term "skipping" GCSEs. Our daughter is in the fast track stream at a local foundation school and is well above average in English and languages. If she was able to sit these A-levels early it would give her more time to spend on the ones such as maths, that she is not quite so good at. She has the ability, she has the teaching - why not sit the A-level when she is of a standard to do so? She is not "skipping" the GCSE in these subjects - surely the A level would show that. I appreciate that not every child has the dedicated teachers that we do - however as long as there is an assessment to see which children should sit these A-levels early I can only see that this is a benefit. With regard to a higher A-level - why not? Surely we should be encouraging all students to achieve the highest possible results - some of them obviously can get better than an A and this should be recognised.
S Munro-Crump, England

The GCSE will now become to AS levels what the CSE was to O-levels in the 80s

M Maguire, UK
The bypassing of GCSEs for the brighter students is quite a damning indictment of the GCSE qualification. The GCSE will now become to AS levels what the CSE was to O-levels in the 80s. This is good. At least now we will be able to distinguish between the few able students and the masses of mediocre students. As for Britons learning other languages - do it if you want to, but don't tell us we should. We're not lazy, we just don't have to do it. If Spanish was the world language then we would all have learned it from an early age, because we had little choice - but it isn't, English is, and will be until at least the end of my lifetime.
M Maguire, UK

The advantages of learning a second language are amazing

Sue Hudson, London, England
At the ripe old age of 40, I'm in my second year of studying Spanish, finding it incredibly enjoyable, and am already reaping the benefits (not least free drinks from appreciative Spanish hotel staff!) The advantages of learning a second language are amazing. To be able to talk to people instead of demanding "Dos beers por favor"(!) enables one to find out what makes other people tick.

Yes, English is the common language of our generation, but many countries in Scandinavia and Eastern Europe use German as their second language, and elsewhere, especially in the US and South America, Spanish is used. British children nowadays don't seem to receive decent educations. Perhaps if schools started teaching languages at an early age (and please, not just French!) the world might be a happier and more literate place!
Sue Hudson, London, England

Yet more tinkering! Is it time for a period of stability in education? What you learn is less important than how you learn. As far as useful stuff - maths, engineering, IT, teamwork, problem solving and science are worth more than another language.
Gordon Lewis, UK

Refreshing that the government has finally admitted that GCSEs offer no meaningful academic challenge to good students. The problem is - do AS levels?
Rodger Edwards, UK

Another day, another government initiative

Mac, Scotland
Another day, another government initiative. How can people teach when they are continually being instructed?
Mac, Scotland

Whatever changes have been made to our education system and its methods of examining, the quality of education has been flawed. When we had the bachelaureat system if the candidates just failed in one subject they were denied the opportunity to further their education.
When we had GCE O- and A-levels, they were still too difficult for most students to cope with, so CSE was introduced. Those I know who took them found them so simplistic that it lulled them into a sense of false self-achievement as the pass levels were so low and even if they scored 100% it was only equivalent to a C grade in O-level GCE at best.
Now we have GCSE which was designed to be simplistic in the ways questions are set but requiring answers of good standard. Now the government wants to add vocational subjects at the expense of languages and science.
Hazel, UK

Learning a foreign language is all about enrichment, and I totally agree with its inclusion in the primary curriculum. Just one question: how is this extra subject going to be fitted into the already bulging primary curriculum?
Lucy, England

It worries me that education chiefs are thinking of letting brighter children by-pass GCSE and go straight to A-level. The difference between a GCSE and an A-level is huge - many children who do well at GCSE don't do so well at A-level, at least the first time round.
What if the child fails the A-level? That means all that work is for nothing - not even a GCSE to show to a prospective employer/university.
Genni Thompson, UK

I think that this can only be a good thing. In the last years of school you want to learn more that is going to help you with your future career, such as child care, and on a recent trip to Paris my French learnt at school came in very handy. These proposals can only be good, but I also think that too much pressure is put on youngsters these days just to make the government's figures look good.
Laura D/J, UK

We are part of Europe and must encourage our children to see a wider picture than their own immediate culture

Andy Millward, UK
Go anywhere in Europe and the younger generation will be streets ahead of their British counterparts. Excuses, notably that English is the "international language" are no longer valid. We are part of Europe and must encourage our children to see a wider picture than their own immediate culture. Speaking another language is the vehicle to serving the needs of others.
Andy Millward, UK

I have friends who tell me that the state of foreign language education in Britain is deplorable. In the US, I would say that it is also deplorable, as well. The US is truly an off shoot of the UK in this respect.
Allison Rich, USA

Why on earth should our schoolchildren be required to waste their time learning foreign languages when we already speak the global language, English? Surely these European ambassadors would be better encouraging schoolchildren in their own countries to learn English, rather than trying to shore up their own dying languages?
Charlie, UK

As a person in the United States, we often hear the same complaint of Americans not learning a foreign language. Whilst English is by far the world's lingua franca, it is not the only language. It cannot hurt but only help to encourage the study of other languages. Here Spanish has become a second language and many Americans are accepting it. Britain can promote the study of other languages whilst still promoting English.
Jonathan Lieberman, USA

My children learn French at an after school club

Cathy, England
Other European countries put us to shame! A second language should be mastered from as early an age as possible - children learn far quicker at age five than at age 15 and have considerably fewer inhibitions. My own children have started to learn French at an after school club at the age of six. I would love to see it feature on the national curriculum at an early age.
Cathy, England

We don't need to learn any other language. The world speaks English. Within 100 years, English will be the only language spoken anywhere. There will be no need for anything else.
Andy W, UK

I wonder at the government hypocrisy behind this proposal. They spend fortunes selling Europe to the UK public while reinforcing that peculiarly British element of xenophobia to schoolchildren that says if foreigners can't talk to us in English then we won't talk to them at all.
James, GB

Why should we bother learning other languages when the majority of rest of the world can speak English? The accepted business language is English and the rest of the world should learn English.
Andy Carney, UK

Being able to speak customers' languages will provide more business opportunities

Neal, UK
As an IT consultant I have worked and lived in the UK, Belgium, Italy and Germany. I am fortunate to speak three languages and believe that the British are backward in their language skills. Like it or not, the language of business is English (American really). We most certainly should "get stuck into some Spanish grammar" because being able to speak customers' languages will help provide more and more business opportunities for as well as understand a menu when you visit that country.
Neal, UK

Presumably the four European ambassadors expressed their grievances in English. I would rather see British subjects spend more time becoming proficient in the intricacies of their own language, than in fiddling around learning foreign tongues for the sake of political correctness. The English are notoriously bad at learning languages and they make no exception with their own.
Chris B, England

Why don't we make it easy for the government and abolish school altogether?

Mick Deal, UK
Typical Britishness: if it's too hard, quit! Why don't we just make it easy for the government and abolish school altogether? As along as kids grow up to know how to stack shelves and drive a cab, what else is there to worry about? We'll just invite better qualified EU members to come to England and do the work that the British have no idea how to do.
Mick Deal, UK

If we adopted English as the common language of Europe then all countries in the Union would confer huge advantages. We would all be able to understand each other immediately without recourse to a half-remembered foreign language. We would save billions of Euros by removing the need to support a multitude of languages and as a group of nations, the EU would be able to compete on a more even footing with the other major economic blocks in the world. Imagine travelling from Athens to the Arctic Circle without being misunderstood through the careless use of some phrase book sentence. Joy would be unconfined and the kids would have more time to learn about mathematics and science.
John Brownlee, England

This is a refreshing contrast to the debate about compulsory English lessons for immigrants. So what about compulsory foreign languages for emigrants? I must say I'm always pleased by the truly international mix of contributors that Talking Point attracts here and remain impressed and a little embarrassed at their command of my language. Learning another language can be only a good thing. The different view & appreciation it gives of one's own language is invaluable and can improve exam grades.
Julius, UK

A big part of the problem is the attitude of non-native English speakers

David, UK
I am a languages graduate and think that speaking a foreign language is a huge asset. I work for an international company and I can think of very few others here in our London office who could hold a conversation in a foreign language. Our foreign colleagues know that they could not even get a job in this organisation without a high level knowledge of English, yet no one here sees anything unfair in that. I have attended meetings where everyone is a French speaker apart from one other British person and we have had to resort to English for that one person's sake. It must be said though, that a big part of the problem is the attitude of non-native English speakers. They come to meetings fully prepared to speak English to us and the same applies when we go to their countries, we are welcomed in perfect English. Also, they accept contracts from us drawn up in English and don't require local language translations. They need to stop making it so easy for us to be lazy.
David, UK

The only reason for learning another language would be so schoolchildren can order a burger on an exchange trip

Simon, UK/Finland
I live in Finland, where they begin to learn English at the age of seven and normally pick up some before then from TV and movies. Why? Because no one else in the world speaks Finnish. I have seen Finnish girls with Spanish boyfriends who speak English to each other, because neither speaks the other's language and English is the common language. I have felt guilty for not speaking another language, but Finns have often said to me "If everyone else in the world spoke Finnish, I wouldn't learn another language - there's no point."

Given English is the global language, what language should English children learn in school? French? Useless unless you go to France all the time. What use would French have been for me living here in Finland? Put teaching time to better use and concentrate on other subjects, such as maths, science and (gasp) English, and just accept that the rest of the world is much better at speaking another language than we are - out of necessity. The only reason for learning another language would be so school children can order a burger when they go on an exchange trip to France, and the cashier will speak English anyway. Those interested in learning another language should go right ahead but it shouldn't be mandatory. Don't force something onto people that they don't need.
Simon, UK/Finland

Learning English will let you talk to the majority of people on earth. Learning a marginal language like French or German lets you talk to 10% at best. This is why you will see a German and a Mexican using English as a common language. Kids can't be bothered to learn these marginal languages because it adds little to their abilities.
Domin Connor, UK

At the age of 11, I didn't much care for French lessons - 14 years on, I live in France

Matthew, France (British)
Learning French along with everyone else at my school at the age of 11, I didn't much care for French lessons, as I didn't see the importance. 14 years on, I live in France on a permanent basis and my French is pretty good. As a result I am highly employable in my profession, IT development. There are very few English developers with a good command of the French language.

It was not the government that gave me the drive to learn French; it was the enthusiasm shown by my French teacher, Mrs Firth. Instead of laborious grammar and repetition, she thrilled me with stories of when she was young and learning French, the cultural differences, typical French life, etc. I couldn't wait to go on my first French exchange and from then on I was hooked. In the past there were always plenty of English children willing to give it a go. Now living in France, my neighbours are all looking for young English people to do language exchanges with their children, but to no avail. Every time I pass them in the street they ask "Have you found anyone Matt?" and I unfortunately have to answer "No".
Matthew, France (British)

I say drop languages altogether

Mark, England
Back in 1974 I was taught French in first and second senior school (year seven and eight now). What a waste of time it was, I dropped the subject like the majority of the school; it was too little, too late. I say drop languages altogether or introduce them in junior school and make them compulsory, like maths and English. The half-way house we have now does not work!
Mark, England

As somebody who has struggled manfully with Italian for many years, one memory I have is having a conversation about football in a cafe in Calabria with a railway worker. He understood me and I was buzzing for hours. Try it out.
Craig Harry, England

Contrary to popular opinion, not all foreigners DO speak English, and if you're only going to limit yourself to Ibiza and other places where most people ARE English, then you'll have a very grim experience of life. We're in danger of becoming a European laughing-stock as our neighbours watch us struggle to make our way speaking loudly and clearly to passers-by. And if you think it's difficult, just listen to any Dutch person - yes any - speaking English!
Sarah, UK

English has become the de facto language of the EU so why can't the remaining Europeans who aren't fluent in English, learn it? It would do wonders for European integration.
Michael Richardson, UK

Abandoning languages at school sounds like a typical British retreat in the face of poor results

David Hazel, UK
I have often heard British people bemoaning the fact that immigrants to this country often don't speak English "properly" and that "they shouldn't be allowed in unless they can speak the language." When I occasionally point out to people that such a rule would considerably reduce the choice of overseas destinations for British people, I am often greeted with puzzled stares, as though I've just said something incomprehensible. The idea of abandoning languages at school sounds like a typical British retreat in the face of poor results - we prefer to give in rather than tackle matters such as this head-on. Learning languages is one of those things the human brain is inherently good at and the skill never really goes away for anyone who bothers to nurture it. In my experience, the more languages you learn, the easier it becomes to learn new ones.
David Hazel, UK

There is no obvious second language for us

Jonathan Kelk, UK
There is no obvious second language for us - is it French, German, Spanish or something else? We do not get the exposure to other languages through everyday television and music and the ability to speak other languages is still not regarded as important to employers. Therefore our knowledge of foreign languages will always lag behind that of our European cousins. And we are the worse, intellectually, for it. But then what use is French when you're selling to an Italian?
Jonathan Kelk, UK

Unfortunately I left school with poor foreign language ability. Twice in the last decade I have suffered the stigma of redundancy and due to my inability to speak German or Spanish, I have not been able to take up certain jobs that I would otherwise have been suitable for. With the expansion of the EU and the economic growth of areas such as the Baltic, those who have a natural ability could perhaps study rarer languages such as Estonian as with less people speaking these languages their ability would be rarer and command a higher premium in a job search.
Richard, England

Why, in Britain, don't we all learn Welsh and Gaelic?

Peter Judge, UK
Learning languages is not difficult, as long as it is done from an early age - many children from ethnic minorities are bilingual, as are many Welsh children. However, why concentrate on just one language? Why not learn comparative languages - learn key phrases in a number of languages such as French, Spanish, German, Arabic languages, Asian languages, Chinese or Japanese? And why, in Britain, don't we all learn Welsh and Gaelic? After all, today's English relies on them just as much as it does on Latin and Germanic languages?
Peter Judge, UK

Pupils have a limited amount of time to learn an unlimited number of subjects. In a world where English dominates, it is best that they learn something enlightening and useful such as physics or geography than dying languages such as Welsh or French.
Richard N, UK

It is frankly embarrassing when on holiday abroad when I attempt to communicate in the local language only to find the natives speak English many times better than I speak their language. I recall an apocryphal anecdote about a company in receivership where a letter in another language had been dumped in a file because nobody could be bothered to try and understand it and it turned out to be an order big enough to have saved the company! To teach our children less about languages is to condemn them to a life of linguistic isolation.
John B, UK

As a speaker of three languages fairly well, and a couple of others not so well, I am increasingly annoyed by people who refuse to learn even the basics of a foreign language on the grounds that everyone speaks English. How are we supposed to be respected as a useful and valuable member of the world community if we can't be bothered to learn how to say hello to foreigners?
Sarah, Reading,UK

I expect there to be many messages with people boasting of how many languages they speak, but I'm afraid that you are the privileged few. There is no focus whatsoever on teaching languages as the British government clears them out to install yet more meaningless exams. English may be the major language of the world but it is rude and ignorant to expect everyone else to speak our language. It is a fault of the educational system. French and Spanish must be taught from a very young age. Not only does it make conversing easier, it also creates respect and companionship between countries. For the Brits there is the additional advantage of really feeling a part of this global village, rather than a nervous bystander asking "Parlez-vous anglais?"
Matt, Amsterdam, Netherlands (ex-UK)

English education is bad and so is the English attitude

Lies, Netherlands
Beside Dutch, I learned English, French and German at school and I even speak Russian too. I lived in England for five years and also went to an English school. I think education in England is very poor. When I came back to the Netherlands I was a year and a half behind and I even did not know some of the basic grammar terms such as noun, substantive, infinitive and so on. Thanks to my "wonderful" English education, I had to double. English education is bad and so is the English attitude.
Lies, Netherlands

If you don't know how your own language works, it's very difficult to learn another

Trish Auciello, UK
I learnt French, German, Latin and classical Greek at school and have also studied Italian. Learning a second language well enough to speak and understand native speakers reasonably well let alone fluently is both difficult and time consuming. One problem we have in the UK is choosing what other languages to learn, from the wide range of those spoken by our neighbours in Europe, to the equally wide range of those spoken in this country, plus the languages of our trading partners in the Far East. Another problem is that there seems to be very little knowledge of English grammar in this country, and if you don't know how your own language works, it's very difficult to learn another.
Trish Auciello, UK

I have only ever needed to speak two languages - Cockney and English! That's always been enough to get me by.
Mark Blackburn, Essex, UK

We are failing badly on foreign languages due to a perceived superiority over all other countries. At least one foreign language should be compulsory from the age of seven upwards to school leaving age. This may help to go some way to improving attitudes to foreigners among some of our young.
Andy, UK

Languages are by no means vital for English students

Phil, UK
English is the dominant language in Europe and arguably throughout the world. This is a fact, not an example of nationalistic supremacy. When journalists report from anywhere in the world, you will always find someone with a passing knowledge of English. I work in the air courier industry and of all the calls I make to hotels, companies and airports worldwide, there will always be someone who can speak passable English. So, unfortunately, languages are by no means vital for English students nowadays, but I do believe that we should follow the lead of European countries and introduce teaching them from a far earlier age.
Phil, UK

Judging from the kind of language I hear from the teenagers on my bus, they should perhaps learn their own one properly first. But yes, learning languages is a very important thing. It's one's duty when travelling to at least try and speak the native language instead of speaking louder in English.
George, England

See also:

08 Feb 02 | Education
Outcry over plans to drop languages
12 Feb 02 | Education
Bright students 'to skip' GCSEs
10 May 00 | Education
Language learning in UK 'lags behind'
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