The beginning of this week saw a secondary school in Leeds announce that it was to teach English as a foreign language.
Pupils at City of Leeds secondary skill are to receive an extra 50-minute lesson each week to study English. Three-quarters of the students at the school do not have English as their mother tongue.
I know this story is relevant only to schools in England. In Scotland, education is a devolved power and so any changes taken down south will not have impact here. Nevertheless, the story got me thinking about the importance of language, and learning languages at school.
When I went to high school – which, although I sound reminiscent, was only last year – I studied French at Standard Grade (which are now replaced by National 4s and 5s; making me feel very reminiscent!).
My family on my dad’s side have a knack for languages. My uncle spent some time teaching English in France, and my dad is our designated translator whenever we go abroad. Because of this, perhaps, I took to French like a croissant to jam. I found it natural and – at the risk of sounding smug – easy. So, it came as no surprise to my parents that I got a 2 in my French exam.
Then came fourth year, and the biggest mistake of my school career: I ditched French…in favour of…Physics. Yes, Physics.
It would have been great had I passed Physics with flying colours at Higher, but no; I got a D. It still sits as an ugly blot on my qualifications list and CV. You can imagine my frustration: I could have passed Higher French with a B, maybe even an A, but instead I flunked it and bummed up my Physics.
Which leads me to my central point: take advantage of language at school!!
At school, you have the opportunity to learn a language for no price. Now, as I look for ways to learn French, I’m looking at around £15-£30/hour for a tutor.
Furthermore, language places you in fantastic stead for a job.
We are living in an increasingly multi-cultural and globalised society, and employers are looking for people with those background skills picked up in high school in order to draw in the most amount of money.
Amusingly, the top 10 languages listed by The Telegraph are ranked, pretty much, in order of market value.
The Telegraph lists German as the top language to learn for graduates looking for a job, followed by French (grrr), Spanish, Mandarin, Polish (I was surprised at this one), Arabic, Cantonese, Russian, Japanese, and finally Portuguese.
When you break those down, you find they are attractive due to their market value. Germany has a GDP over €2.4 trillion, and is still doing well despite the eurozone crisis.
I guess Poland is not so surprising as I initially thought.
The number of Poles in the UK is rising all the time, increasing tenfold between 2001 and 2011. The 2011 census (the most recent available) found there was just under 600,000 Poles in the UK, yet the number is still rising with Polish women giving birth to 21,156 children. Not each, of course.
Furthermore, the Polish economy is a bit of a economic success story in economy journalist columns. According to the Foreign Affairs, the country’s economy has grown at a rate of almost 4% a year. This is in contrast with the UK’s revised GDP growth of just 1.3% last year. This makes Poland the sixth-largest economy in the EU. That, combined with the growing Polish community makes Poland’s ranking at number 5 of the Telegraph’s list unsurprising.
But language is not just a valuable tool for striking those deals with the rich Russian oligarchs on the other end of the phone line. The ability to speak two or more languages can even be beneficial to your mother tongue.
Sounds strange, but a study by York University in Canada found that people who were bilingual had enhanced literacy levels. This was due to the ability to transfer the knowledge in one language to help with the other. Basically, a better understanding and relation to words and meaning.
Not only that, but it is an immensely gratifying skill to have. I am exceptionally envious of my Dad’s ability to go to France and order tickets to get into the Louvre with no trouble at all. The fact that you can now have a conversation with a much greater population of people just sounds so rewarding. You’ll get an insight in to different cultures through it, and, more importantly, visit and maybe even live in another country and escape the UK weather!
Need I say more? My Mum and I have had the conversation a number of times: “Why did I not stick with French, dammit?”
Je ne sais pas, is all I can say, but it is certainly the biggest regret I have from school. I would have so many doors open to me now that I don’t have because I didn’t stick with my French. French modules at university look so attractive, yet I know I can’t do them because my French is déchets.
As a journalism student I can see the distinct advantages of it: enhanced literacy skills; the ability to increase my contacts through the ability to talk in their mother tongue; a potentially larger pay cheque as international correspondents have higher salaries (which is becoming a problem for media groups who are looking to cut costs).
So kids, what have we learned in today’s lesson?
“Collez le français à l’école, monsieur!”
Thanks, Google translate.