Addressing the language deficit – Brexit or no Brexit

Brexit or no Brexit, modern foreign languages remain an important part of a pupil’s education if they are to compete in a multi-lingual world. David Walker-Smith is a linguist and head of curriculum at Farlington School, an independent, 3-18 girls’ day and boarding school in Horsham, West Sussex. Here he discusses the ongoing challenges of teaching languages and shares Farlington’s winning formula

The day after the referendum result language teachers across the country found themselves having to rebuff the idea from some students that this meant there was no longer any need for them to come to language lessons! The students were, of course, wrong and the recently published British Council’s Languages for the Future study usefully identifies that Spanish, French and German remain among the top five languages which the UK will need following our exit from the European Union.

An ongoing challenge

The nation’s schools face an on-going challenge in providing these due to the predictable and inevitable effect of the ill-advised disapplication of modern foreign languages (MFL) as a compulsory subject in 2002. This led to fewer and fewer students studying languages at school and then university and, therefore, a smaller and smaller pool from which to recruit new language teachers. In fact, universities now often struggle to fill places on MFL teacher training courses.

There is no doubt that it is time for MFL to regain its previous status and to be valued in the same way as STEM subjects, as the report suggests.

Breaking down language barriers

At Farlington School we guide future Year 10 students towards a balanced curriculum which includes at least one modern foreign language, as we regard this as part-and-parcel of a good, rounded education. Our message is that, yes, languages are not easy to learn for many Britons, but language qualifications are respected by both society and commerce, they can be tremendous fun when taught well and are an invaluable personal and business skill.

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Farlington’s language department has a unique approach to teaching modern languages. Each classroom includes a small stage on which girls enjoy performing the foreign language sketches they create together. Seating is either round-table or theatre-style, allowing girls to interact easily with each other and the software. Active learning engages and challenges children’s thinking using both real-life and imaginary situations.

Prep pupils are taught French from Reception and Spanish from Year 3, with extra-curricular clubs in German and Mandarin. In years 7 and 8 girls are taught Spanish and French, with German added to the mix in year 9 and Italian in year 10. Multi-lingual staff and a flexible timetable ensure that students are able to study their preferred combination of languages, which makes a huge difference to their motivation.

Brexit, or no brexit

We need schools, parents, language organisations and government to work together to address the current language deficit and ensure that our young people are equipped for the international world which – Brexit or no Brexit – they will soon be entering.

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