Why should anybody bother to learn a language in the current economic climate?

There is a recession on and the outlook is truly bleak:  the June 2011 jobs market seems to be hitting an all time low with young people unable to find their first employment and a high percentage of people are out of work. Despite what the Chancellor said in the Today programme on June 6th, it doesn’t really look like there will be an improvement in the economic outlook any time soon.

So it certainly doesn’t seem to make sense for people to splash out any little stash of cash they may have on language classes!

And yet, a careful trawl around the internet brings up various languages-related curiosities which together sow seeds of hope. 

The Languages Company, provides on its informative website an overview of the progress made in language learning strategy between 2002 and 2010 and a perspective on the future.  According to the Languages Company the government continues to believe in the value of foreign languages, both at Primary and at Secondary, and despite withdrawal of funding to worthy languages-based organisations and institutions, such as CILT and Links into Languages, the Department for Education continues to support the learning of languages, in its English baccalaureate, for example.

The English baccalaureate, admittedly not a real qualification at all but a way to measure qualifications that students do have, has a foreign language as one of its 5 recommended ‘core academic’ subjects.  If languages are not worthwhile, why would ‘one foreign language’ be on this list?

The launch of a new online resource centre for language teachers and learners, Linguanet Worldwide, a project funded with support from the European Commission education and training Lifelong Learning Programme, is a reflection of the priority given to language learning by those at the centre of Europe, where languages are thriving.

The London Language Show programmed for October 2011 has a very impressive list of exhibitors and promises to be the place to go to see all the organisations involved in any way with language teaching and learning, including language tasters and seminars. 

Another resource which is great for teachers is the LinkedUp section of Linked in, which shares all the project resources from the Links into Languages LinkedUp Award Scheme, in the form of a series of free downloadable resources for teachers of primary, secondary, and post-16 languages.

The ALL (Association for Language Learning) annual conference, Language World 2011, promises to be an opportunity to ‘celebrate language learning’ in July this year. For the first time, the conference is being held in London, and despite the exorbitant conference fees (£440 for non-members!!) the exhibitor list is impressive and attendance may be high.

ALL also supports the current Secondary curriculum, which is due to be replaced in September 2014 when the results of the Curriculum review, which began in November 2010, are made public. It is not yet clear whether the new Curriculum will give language learning higher priority than now. In 2004, the government took language learning off the list of compulsory school subjects (except for age 11-14) and the number of foreign language examination candidates has been declining at all levels ever since.

As a result of this decline in language learning, in February 2011 Mike Kelly of Southampton University and others set up the Speak to the Future campaign, in order to raise the profile of language learning in this age of globalization by lobbying politicians and policy-makers towards change and thus improve educational and career opportunities for young people.

Mike Kelly has also co-written the European Profile for Language Teacher Education, a framework for foreign language teacher training.

The information contained in this summary is not joined up in any way and makes little sense in the current climate. But the fact that there is so little priority given to language learning at the moment gives me the feeling that this is a lull before a storm.  Already, anxiety is being expressed by members of the European parliament that so few graduates with languages are available. According to the BBC at the beginning of May, it is simply not possible to find suitably qualified applicants for the positions available where languages are necessary. The new English Baccalaureate is making schools think again and could cause them to reintroduce languages at primary and secondary level.  The scramble for language teachers to start in the Autumn has already begun. Meanwhile, there is a perceived lack of skilled language speakers, and I feel that sometime fairly soon, knowing a foreign language will put job seekers at the very top of the pile.

Cactus offers foreign language evening courses in a variety of locations across the UK, language courses abroad in a range of destinations worldwide and tailor-made language training for companies and individuals.

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