A l'eau, c'est l'heure

Some special pleading in The Grauniad today about the continuing decline of foreign language studies in the UK. I have some slight sympathies to the viewpoint - every time I hear a UK tourist trying to make themselves understood in France / Germany / Spain / Italy, their combination of a raised voice, speaking slowly and exaggerated gestures is prone to bring tears to one's eyes.

I did have to concur with SamLogan who wrote:
Learning languages may lead to a more 'rounded life', but it has a massive opportunity cost. Time spent 'broadening your horizons' by learning a language, and the countless hours of verb drills and trying to roll your r's could alternatively be spent learning an instrument, training for a marathon, joining Lulzsoc or curing cancer.
I've spent enough time in language classes for it to be plain that a relatively small number of people enjoy and are reasonably good at learning and speaking it. For everyone else, to gain something close to a working knowledge is going to require near-immersion in that language for a while -- and even then, they're going to be left with a pronounced accent and awful grammar. For foreigners learning English, they have the advantage of a) any number of English-language TV channels, musicians and Internet sites, b) English being established as the dominant international language on the planet thereby making it the single obvious target to learn and c) sufficient English natives having a pronounced accent and dreadful grammar that they'll be able to blend in.

Having the opportunity to learn a foreign language or two in school is a good idea. Everyone should try it, and schools should encourage pupils who show ability - even if they don't end up using it directly, good command of a foreign language is an excellent signal of general ability, literacy and diligence to employers. But don't hold a gun to a student's head because they can't wrap their mind around der-die-das-die-den-die-das-die-des-der-des-der-dem-der-dem-den.

No comments:

Post a Comment

All comments are subject to retrospective moderation. I will only reject spam, gratuitous abuse, and wilful stupidity.