Education & Family

Anthony Seldon: UK must embrace language learning

Dr Anthony Seldon
Image caption Dr Seldon will speak of a reluctance to learn foreign languages

The UK risks being cut off from the rest of the world because of a reluctance to learn languages, a leading head teacher will warn.

Dr Anthony Seldon, head of the fee-paying Wellington College, will argue that the UK should not always rely on other nationalities to learn English.

He will say Great Britain is rapidly becoming "little Britain".

Speaking to a conference of language specialists organised by the Schools Network, Dr Seldon will warn of crisis.

He will tell delegates: "As a nation we risk becoming deeply insular and cut off from abroad.

"In the run-up to the Olympics, and despite being more multicultural than ever in our history, Great Britain is rapidly becoming little Britain.

"Our record in language learning is uniquely bad in the developed world. We cannot simply assume the rest of the world will learn English to accommodate us."

Dr Seldon will say children see languages as the hard option.

"The perception in schools is that modern languages are hard and it is more difficult to gain good grades at them than in other subjects. We need to change this urgently.

"We cannot lose the plot at a time when other countries are expanding their language teaching.

"We desperately need to shift that culture and dramatically expand the teaching of languages which are increasingly important for our future, such as Mandarin, Arabic and Urdu, which are studied by far too few of our young people."

Entries fall

Language learning at GCSE declined sharply after the subject ceased to be compulsory up to the age of 16 in 2004.

Figures from this summer's GCSE entries show modern foreign languages are continuing to decline.

French is showing the largest overall decrease, with entries down 13.2% from 2010 and down 28.8% over the past five years.

German is also down by 13.2% from last year and entries for Spanish fell by 2.5% from 2010.

There will be further scrutiny of language GCSE numbers now that a language has been included as a requirement of the English Baccalaureate.

Dr Seldon will tell the conference that expanding the numbers of languages taught; immersing students in languages outside lessons; and working with businesses can make learning the subject more relevant to pupils.

"We need the government to support the expansion of language teaching. We need more language teachers in schools. We need exam boards to work with schools to make languages more accessible.

"And we need schools to learn from those which have effectively countered the decline in the take-up of languages."

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