Wednesday 17 January 2018

New campaign aims to boost languages in our education

Katherine Donnelly Education Editor

ENGLISH is no longer enough – that is the message of a new campaign to give languages a greater voice in education.

The big focus on science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) has prompted concern that languages will get left behind.

While so-called STEM subjects are much in demand from employers, proficiency in foreign languages is also essential for many jobs.

Many businesses and industries operate in a global market, and their staff need to be able to communicate across the world.

Employers in Ireland regularly complain about the lack of home graduates with the necessary language skills.

Now the languages fightback has started, backed by more than 200 linguists, academics, teachers, parents and business leaders. It represents the first coming together of all levels of the education system, as well as business leaders and social entrepreneurs, to support language teaching and learning.

The One Voice for Languages campaign argues that employment is not the only reason for students to develop their linguistic skills.

They point to national and international research, demonstrating the direct benefits of language learning in boosting literacy, at both primary and post-primary level.

Proficiency in foreign languages also brings wider social and cultural benefits, they say.

French is the most popular language in the Leaving Certificate, taken by about 25,000 of over 55,000 candidates this year. A long way behind comes German, at about 6,600 candidates, Spanish with about 5,000, with Italian, Russian and Japanese trailing at around 300.

In the Leaving Certificate, male students are less likely to take languages than females.

Dr Ann Devitt, assistant professor in modern languages in Trinity College, said Ireland, with its own national language and migrant populations had the potential to become a place of rich linguistic diversity.

But this potential wealth was not being developed, with only 40pc of Irish people claiming they could hold a conversation in any second language – the fourth lowest rate in Europe, she said.

Ireland is the only country in Europe, other than Scotland, where a non-indigenous language is not compulsory at any stage of the mainstream educational curriculum.

Irish Independent

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