As a school tour operator founded by a former French teacher and staffed by a number of keen linguists, we were disappointed to see that the GCSE and A-Level results showed that the decline in uptake of modern foreign languages continues. Having experienced for ourselves the way that speaking another language can open doors and broaden horizons, it is a real shame that this message seems not to be reaching young people.
There are, of course, a number of reasons that languages are failing to pique the interest of our nation’s young people. For one thing, there have been serious concerns over the comparative difficulties in achieving the top grades in modern foreign languages, particularly at A-Level. This could mean that, despite being named as one of the ‘facilitating subjects’ by the Russell Group, languages is less attractive as a route into a good university than other such subjects.
The concern was so great that Ofqual actually conducted a report (published in September 2014) into the examination of A-Level languages and concluded that the exam boards must make changes prior to the summer 2015 exams. The A-Level results did show a general improvement in the proportion of students achieving the top grades, which may improve how students view the subject in the future, although the actual number of students opting to take languages at A-Level dipped once more.
With regards to languages at GCSE, the inclusion of languages in the new EBacc performance measure in 2013 initially saw a spike in uptake, although this has declined significantly since. This may be evidence of a fear that it is also too difficult for GCSE students to get the top grades, although this seems to be negated by this year’s results, which saw 71% of students who took French and 74% of those who took German gaining at least a grade C.
Perhaps what is most concerning is that it may also indicate that the message that languages can provide a real boost to job prospects is simply not getting through to young people. The attitude still exists that ‘most people speak English’, especially when it comes to business and tourism, and it may be this that is persuading students not to take languages. Britain is also still a relatively monolingual society and our young people are not as exposed to other languages and cultures perhaps as much as those on the continent, who can move freely and easily between their own and neighbouring countries.
It may not solve all the issues surrounding language learning in the UK, but it does seem that young people need to be made aware of how beneficial the ability to speak another language could be for them. We firmly believe that one effective way to do this is to arrange an exciting school languages trip that provides students with the opportunity to immerse themselves in the language and use their skills to discover the local culture.
Our tailor-made school language trips include curriculum-based activities designed to get students to practise speaking the language with native speakers in more everyday, practical situations. This demonstrates to them that speaking another language offers opportunities to connect with people and cultures that would otherwise be missed. We can also arrange visits to businesses, companies or even multinational organisations, that will show students the career prospects that languages can open up to them.
For further information on any of our school language trips, please do not hesitate to contact us.