Monthly Archives: June 2010

British Minister says French a useless language

Chris Bryant, a British Foreign Office minister, told members of Parliament that the French language has outlived its usefulness in Britain and that Britons should learn more important languages like Chinese and Arabic.  Oops!  Bryant’s comments were not only insulting to Britain’s neighbors, the French, but also harmful in general for the promotion of foreign language learning.  Doesn’t he realize that some former French colonies also use French as their language?  That’s like saying that German should be replaced by Chinese and Arabic just because more people speak those languages than they do German.  What will happen if one day someone says that English should not be learned as a foreign language because other languages are more useful to learn?  Every language is important and should have a right to be learned, no matter what!  Follow this link to view a video of Bryant’s comments in Parliament:

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Computers replace Foreign Language Teachers

Budget cuts forced one New Jersey school district to eliminate their foreign language teachers and replace them with computer language programs from Rosetta Stone.  It’s good that the system didn’t simply eliminate foreign language learning altogether but teachers are needed to reinforce what the students learn from the computer programs.

The  full story can be found at

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Mixing Soccer with Foreign Languages

In time for the Soccer World Cup in South Africa, one of England’s most famous soccer teams, Arsenal (London), is trying to use soccer to encourage students to learn foreign languages.  According to its website (, the team “uses football (British term for soccer) and Arsenal related resources to raise interest and attainment levels in school subjects [like foreign languages] in the classroom which is followed by football coaching sessions.”  On June 22 more than 250 students from the United Kingdom of German, French, Spanish and Portuguese backgrounds, took part in the filming of a multi-lingual music video.  I doubt if American sports like baseball would ever consider a similar plan even though they have players from Japan, Latin America and the Caribbean.  Maybe the upcoming Olympic games will renew interest in foreign languages here?

Anyways, here’s the article from

To celebrate nations uniting for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa, over 250 UK students of German, French, Spanish and Portuguese descended on Emirates Stadium on 22 June to take part in the filming of a multi-lingual music video. The song ‘Get the ball rolling’ will be performed and sung by students who are all participants of the Arsenal Double Club – a multi award-winning project founded by Arsenal that combines learning with football.

The Arsenal Double Club education initiative has its roots in the ‘double’ winning season of 1998 when Arsenal in the Community piloted a scheme which fused football with learning.  The Arsenal Double Club uses football and Arsenal related resources to raise interest and attainment levels in school subjects in the classroom which is followed by football coaching sessions.  The scheme has gone from strength to strength for over a decade and incorporates a wide variety of subjects including modern foreign languages.

Head of Arsenal in the Community, Alan Sefton said: “This is a wonderful opportunity to bring young people together and celebrate this year’s tournament and encourage their language learning through football which is the aim of the Arsenal Double Club.”

‘Get the ball rolling’ has been written by the Berlin musician Mark Scheibe as an anthem for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa and is a flagship event of the ‘Think German’ campaign: a year long celebration of the German language and culture spearheaded by the German Embassy, Goethe-Institut London, UKGerman Connection and DAAD. The song contains verses in all the Double Club languages: English, German, French, Spanish and Portuguese. The five traditional languages of the South African national anthem are also represented in the song.

The song will be available on the Goethe-Institut London’s website from June 11th to coincide with the launch of the tournament.

Since the Double Club’s launch, the inspirational project has been hugely successful. Having won the 2008

European Award for Languages, the Double Club will also receive a special prize this June from CILT for its outstanding contribution to language learning. The project has also been adopted by the French, Spanish and Portuguese cultural institutes. With the numbers of pupils taking part rising to almost 5000 students across the country, many other clubs, including Chelsea Football Club have also developed their own Double Clubs.  Students from the Chelsea, Fulham and Ipswich programmes also taking part in this event.

With the Olympic games fast approaching, the success of the multi-lingual Double Club project provides schools and the wider languages community with extra impetus to bring sport and languages closer together and make a high profile, concerted push for the promotion of language learning over the years to come.

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Bilingualism key to language survival

Here’s an interesting article from ABC News Science Online (written by Anna Salleh) about the importance of bilingualism in preventing the decline and extinction of languages:

Dr Jorge Mira of the University of Santiago de Compostela and colleagues report their mathematical model of language competition on the pre-press website

There are about 6,000 different languages in the world, but just a handful, including English, dominate.

Some mathematical models have shown how dominating languages can lead to the decline and extinction of less popular languages.

Such models seem to explain, for example, the crushing of Scottish, Gaelic and Welsh by English.

But Dr Mira and colleagues say this is not necessarily so.

They say earlier mathematical models did not account for bilingualism, which allows two languages to co-evolve.

In their mathematical model, Dr Mira and colleagues found that two languages can co-exist if they are sufficiently similar and there is a stable group of bilingual speakers.

“[The results] suggest that the competition between two languages does not inevitably lead to the extinction of one of them,” say the researchers.

Bilingualism key

Australian linguist, Professor Nicholas Evans, from the Australian National University in Canberra agrees that bilingualism is key to the survival of non-dominant languages.

But he does not agree with Dr Mira and colleagues’ conclusion that languages have to be necessarily similar to coexist.

He points to the coexistence of Latin in Hungary until the 1880s, despite Latin and Hungarian being far from similar.

Professor Evans says a language is more likely to survive when it has a “specialised domain of use”. In Hungary, for example, Latin was used as the language of officials.

“It’s important to have a clear context in which the choice of language is determined,” says Professor Evans, author of the book Dying Words: Endangered Languages and What They Have to Tell Us.

Professor Evans also points out the continued coexistence of English and Indian languages and of Yiddish and German.

He says while Yiddish and German are similar in some respects they are conceptually quite different.

“Yiddish is a vehicle is of Hebrew culture, German is a vehicle of Christian culture,” Professor Evans said.

He says their survival relies on the importance of these languages to specific communities.

Professor Evans cites French linguist Ferdinand de Saussure’s view that language is always pulled in different directions.

“A language exists to enable us to communicate with as many people as possible, but also to tell us who we are,” he said.

“That’s why at the same time English is spreading, it’s getting more and more local varieties than ever.”

Monolingual culture

Professor Evans says there is a harmful “ideology” that speaking just one language is the norm.

“The biggest impediment to the survival of small languages is the monolingual culture,” he said.

Professor Evans says because large languages dominate the world economically, the speakers of those languages can afford to be monolingual, but he says monolingualism is a “historical aberration”.

“If you go back to Shakespeare’s time English-speakers were famous multilingual people,” he said.

Professor Evans says hunter-gatherers typically involve 100 to 300 people speaking a language, marrying outside the group, drawing their spouse from another language and having parents and grandparents that speak different languages.

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More Funding for Foreign Language Project

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency  has given millions of dollars to a company in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to work on a special language translation program to help create a software that can “transcribe, translate and distill large volumes of speech and text in multiple languages.”  When the program is complete, it is supposed to help American analysts “recognize critical information in foreign languages.”  Sounds like a good idea to me.  The full story can be found at

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Learning Foreign Languages a Waste of Time?!!

That’s  exactly what Washington Post Education Columist Jay Matthews wrote in his column on April 22, 2010.  How could anyone make such a claim?  Especially someone who writes an education column in a prestigious and widely-read national newspaper !  Shame on you.  That’s exactly the kind of attitude that fuels the fire for the elimination of foreign language programs in public schools and universities.  At my school I learn nine different subjects at a time — three of which are foreign languages by choice.  Not only do I learn how to communicate verbally with other people in foreign countries but I also have the opportunity to learn about their history and culture.  I consider myself to be well-rounded in that way.  I guess Mr. Matthews and others who agree with his attitude toward languages want to continue the idea of the “Ugly” (and ignorant) American.  Maybe people who look down on language learning should stop and think for a minute about its use for all different subjects — science and math included.  Shouldn’t scientists and mathematicians know a different language to be able to communicate with colleagues abroad and read about significant scientific findings in journals (past and present) that are in a language other than English?  Or, perhaps are the only journals worth reading ones written in English?  Think about that, Mr. Matthews!

Jay Matthews’ perspective can be found through this link:

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A Foreign Language Success Story?

An elementary school in Centreville, Virginia, is offering a dual or two-way immersion program in Spanish and English.  Check out the link to this interesting story from Voice of America, June 16, 2010:

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