On language teaching in schools


At an Intelligence Squared debate last week, Professor Mary Beard gave some indications of how the teaching of languages has suffered in state education.

– Fewer than 500 state schools now offer any classical languages and much of this teaching is offered in the \’twilight\’ hours after most classes have finished.

– The government is not providing enough training of classics teachers to replace the ones who will retire.

– The numbers taking French GCSE have fallen by 100,000 since 2004.


TEACHERS in one town are struggling to understand their pupils – because they speak 127 languages.

Kids turn up for class talking any lingo from Afrikaans and Armenian to Uzbek and Zulu.

Others chatter away in an incredible variety of tongues including Assamese, Chichewa, Kurdish, Lithuanian, four kinds of Chinese, Nahuati and even English. It means Reading, Berks – population 233,000 – has more languages than almost any town of similar size in the world.

Sorry, can somome remind me what the problem is again? We seem to have an abundance of people who can speak not English….so why does anyone want to train more?

8 thoughts on “On language teaching in schools”

  1. The problem is the teachers were taught (and are currently not teaching) the wrong languages.

    Instead of them being taught (and not teaching) French, German, Spanish, Latin etc, they should have been learning (and still not teaching btw,) Afrikaans, TxtSpk and Zulu instead.


  2. Add to that, that those that DO get German (Do not know about the others), are so bloody abysmal, that they still have to take the language course and test when they get here, IF they wish to stay any length of time. And THAT is not exactly high standard either.

  3. Brian, follower of Deornoth

    The question I’d like an answer to is this: since everyone in the world is speaking English, why are we wasting time on foreign languages?

    We could have a competitive advantage over all the other nations of the world by spending the time currently wasted on French and German learning Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry.

    So why aren’t we doing this?

  4. Brian…you fall into the trap of thinking that because people speak good-sounding English that they actually understand us. Unless you are aware of the foreign language, you will never know how poorly they misunderstand you. I have watched people giving pitches to Dutch audiences, replete with cockney jokes……the audience understood the words, could not work out what they meant…the pitch failed.

  5. Brian, what on earth makes you think they’d be teaching sciences instead, if they stopped teaching languages?

    Do they even teach Physics, Chemistry and Biology as separate subjects these days by the way?

    I thought the GCSE subjects, at least, had been lumped together into something (laughingly) called “Science.”

  6. Brian, follower of Deornoth


    You have a good point. But learning French and German isn’t going to help with the Dutch. There are about 6,000 languages in the world and however hard we try we can’t learn more than two or three of them.


    Yes, you’re right. Not learning languages and spending the extra time on PHSE…

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