It was with interest that I read the article in The Scotsman about foreign language teaching in Scottish schools. Throughout the country, Mandarin is becoming more popular than traditionally taught German. Some schools and even school districts will not be offering German lessons at all.
This is said to be in response to the growth in political and, more importantly, economic strength of China. The setting up of Confucius ClassroomsÂ has boosted interest, as has the feeling that children will need to speak the official Chinese language to get ahead in business life when they are older.
I have misgivings about this. When I was in school, we were advised to learn French or Spanish as those were the languages that would be advantageous in business life. I would be interested to know how many of my blog readers have actually found this to be true. How many Brits do business with companies where they have to speak the language, and if they do, was it the language lessons in school that prepared them for this?
Here in Geneva, we have an international community, but the common language is English. My husband works for a multinational company, the meetings are in English, the conversation in and around the company switches to English as soon as one non-French speaker joins the group.
International business language is English. I cannot see that changing anytime soon. I do see that if you have business dealings with a Chinese company, that learning Mandarin would be advantageous but right now business dealings with Germany are still strong, withÂ many companies in Scotland doing business with Germany (although I suspect most of the correspondence will be in English). For several years now, the Germans have been bringing the teaching of English forward, so that most children start English lessons in Primary School.
The teaching of languages should be introduced as early as possible in school, as the window of opportunity for learning a foreign language closes at around 7 or 8 years. After this, it is of course still possible to learn a language, but the children find it more difficult. I fully support the Scottish Goverment’s target to introduce one or two languages at primary school age. I used to teach pre-schoolers English when we lived in Germany, and it is astounding how fast they pick up a language.
Teaching a foreign language at an early age means that the children will find it easier to learn subsequent languages. It is also said to improve cognitive thinking in other areas, improving school results generally.
I wonder though, if we are going about this wrong. We should be teaching foreign languages, but we should perhaps concentrate on the languages our neighbouring countries speak, the languages that we are more likely to use in our private lives. So few people go on to work in an international environment, and if they do then they can likely get by using English, and learn the other language later. We are far more likely to travel to Germany or France on holiday than to China, so would it not be better to concentrate on those languages?
What do you think?