Did you pass your foreign languages GCSE yet cannot remember any of the language? Well judging by a recent study by the European Commission you’re not alone. Figures show that teenagers in the UK are more likely to struggle to order food or ask their way to a train station in a foreign language than pupils elsewhere in the continent. It was also revealed that English pupils had a poorer grasp of the basics than their peers in other countries.
The study shows that just 9 per cent of 14 and 15-year-olds in the UK who are learning French, the most commonly taught language, are classed as “independent users” who can deal with forthright, familiar issues; compared with 82 per cent of 14 and 15 year olds in Sweden and Malta. The average across all 14 EU countries surveyed was 42 per cent. The figure is based on an assessment of the teenager`s reading, writing and listening skills in the foreign language.
So why is it that the standard of foreign languages in this country is so poor? It seems the main difference between the teaching of foreign languages in the UK and countries such as Sweden is the variety of languages pupils in the UK must learn in high school compared to the single foreign language Swedish pupils learn. In years 7-9 the vast majority of pupils in the UK are presented with a myriad of language lessons such as French, Spanish and German and in some cases Latin and Italian. Whereas Swedish students study only one language, English; from year 1 until year 10 and any other languages can be optionally added to the student`s curriculum.
It could also be argued that another main factor causing this poor standard may be due to the current GCSE system. The study found that the UK was ranked lowest in reading, writing and listening in the main foreign language taught in state schools – French. It was also worst in reading in the second foreign language taught – German. But wait? Aren`t foreign language GCSE`s focused on reading, writing and listening exams. Well, yes, but how can you possibly thoroughly learn a language when the focus is on passing an exam?
It seems in the UK the focus when leaning a language is to regurgitate as much of a piece of writing you possibly can despite the fact you may or may not know what you are saying. In 2011 52% of pupils taking French GCSE obtained an A or an A* yet only 9% of students can understand the basics of the language. Clearly exemplifying that GCSE language lessons do not teach pupils foreign languages, but how to pass the exam.
The study has prompted an outrage within the education sector. Nick Gibb, the Schools Minister, commented: “For England, an international trading nation, to lie at the bottom of a league of language competence is economically and socially dangerous.” However it seems that the government have woken up and realized the detrimental impact of not having a nation of Polyglots, as plans have recently been announced to make foreign languages compulsory in primary schools from age seven.