So when I read this article in the Guardian newspaper yesterday, I was horrified to think that anyone could be advocating not learning a foreign language in the school classroom and felt compelled to put together my thoughts on the subject.
The Benefits Of Learning a Foreign Language
I thrived on the task of putting together complex sentences in the classroom in a foreign language and making them say exactly what I intended them to say. I loved the opportunity to travel to foreign towns and cities with my school and take in the local sights and culture and sample the local food and, in particular, to be able to practise conversing with local people in their own language.
Just as we appreciate when foreigners come to the United Kingdom and try to speak with us in English, I imagine that they must value our efforts to master their language when visiting their country. I think that this is an important step in maintaining good relations with other countries.
And, as this article illustrates, there are a great many other benefits to learning languages, particularly if one starts to learn them at a very early age.
Increasing Constraints On The School Timetable
Some youngsters are already certain, when they make their GCSE choices in preparation for the start of Year 9, exactly what they want to do with the rest of their life, both educationally and professionally whilst others may still be unsure as they enter their last few days of the Sixth Form.
And, as the Government continues to recommend more and more subjects that must be covered within the curriculum, some may argue that what they see as more practical topics should take precedence over the teaching of foreign languages.
Naturally, of course, I'm not about to rush to advocate anything of the sort, however with so many subjects to incorporate into the school week and the need to be seen to be offering a broad education to pupils, I wonder whether it would be beneficial to introduce a kind of 'stranded' education system?
What Do I Mean By 'Stranded'?
Here within the education system in the United Kingdom, I find myself wondering whether, alongside the 'full' GCSE in each subject, we could offer at GCSE level the option to take a combined humanities GCSE (incorporating aspects of history, practical geography - such as map reading skills - and religious education) or a combined arts GCSE (covering core aspects of music, drama and art) or a combined languages GCSE (offering basic yet practical language classes in one, two, maybe even three different languages across the two years to enable young people to communicate with their peers across Europe).
That way, youngsters who know that they want to pursue a career in the science industry could, for example, choose to take more sciences as their main subjects and, alongside them, a combined GCSE in foreign languages and/or the arts to give them a basic yet practical knowledge of these subject areas.
Similarly, someone who might be more inclined to choose foreign languages as their main focus, but who recognises the importance of having a basic knowledge of certain scientific concepts which may prove useful in their daily life, could choose to take extra languages at GCSE whilst continuing to study practical aspects of all sciences in a single combined science GCSE and a little drama, art and music, all of which enhance creativity and build confidence, in a single combined arts GCSE.
Breaking Down Barriers
In a political climate where we seem intent on closing ourselves off from the rest of the world, the ability to converse with someone in their own language and to forge positive relations with foreigners by continuing to show an interest in their language, their culture and their people is incredibly important.
So whilst the Guardian columnist may be of the opinion that there is little need to learn a foreign language, I personally believe that language learning should continue for as long, and as often, as possible.
A New Day, A New Language?
If you found the time to sit down and pick up a new language, which language would you choose?