In My Opinion: Teaching languages at primary level will be a key to our economic future
The Government's budget announcement for 2012 to abolish the Modern Languages in Primary Schools Initiative (MLPSI), which supports the learning of foreign languages in over 550 primary schools nationally, should be rethought.
It is a key part of an integrated language strategy that fosters the development of a multilingual workforce for Ireland and we, at the Science Foundation Ireland-funded Centre for Next Generation Localisation (CNGL), believe it should be retained.
CNGL is a Dublin City University-led academia-industry consortium that is producing advances in 'localisation', the process of adapting and personalising digital content, products and services for foreign markets.
Localisation is vital for Ireland's recovery as it enables companies to introduce their products to new markets. The sector directly employs 16,000 people in Ireland
CNGL runs a number of initiatives at second level to foster interest in language learning. These include the All-Ireland Linguistics Olympiad. CNGL also recently launched a guide to localisation careers, which urges students to pursue third-level studies in language and technology.
Despite the success of such initiatives, CNGL believes that producing a strong pipeline of multilingual graduates should begin at primary school level.
Research has shown that obtaining fluency and native-like pronunciation is more likely in those who commence language studies at an early age.
CNGL recently commenced consultation with the MLPSI on development of a game-based virtual learning environment -- 'The Primary School Localisation Toolkit' -- that teaches language and localisation awareness to primary school students through downloadable interactive games and lessons.
We have drawn on our expertise in language and technology to create the toolkit's virtual learning environment and a number of fun and educational games.
If the MLPSI is abolished, the potential for further development and rollout of the localisation toolkit will be reduced substantially.
According to Ernst & Young's 2011 annual Globalisation Index, published just last week, Ireland is the most globalised nation in the western world in economic terms.
Despite our international outlook, just 34pc of Irish citizens know a language other than their mother tongue -- the lowest proportion in the EU.
Clearly, there is significant scope for improvement.
By supporting the teaching of modern languages in 550 primary schools, the MLPSI is helping to promote multilingualism and multi-ethnicity. Promoting these qualities will contribute to the country's future success.
Professor Josef van Genabith is Director of Centre for Next Generation Localisation (CNGL)