Foreign Languages ‘the preserve of private schools’?

This article from The Telegraph suggests that foreign language learning is becoming a privilege of the elite in the UK.  Will the same thing happen in the U.S.?

Article by Graeme Paton, January 27, 2010″

A collapse in the number of teenagers studying French, German and Spanish to a high standard risks excluding hundreds of thousands of young people from the race for top jobs with multinational companies, it was claimed.

Figures published today showed privately-educated pupils were twice as likely to study languages beyond the age of 14 as those from comprehensive schools last summer.

It also emerged that just one-in-five comprehensives made foreign languages a compulsory subject at GCSE level compared with almost 90 per cent of independent schools.

At the same time, researchers unearthed a starj divide in the range of languages being offered, with children from fee-paying schools much more likely to be given tuition in Arabic, Japanese, Mandarin and Russian, as well as more traditional subjects such as French.

CiLT, the National Centre for Languages, which carried out the study, said higher levels of language tuition was now “associated with privilege” in the education system.

Kathryn Board, the organisation’s chief executive, said it gave pupils from top schools the edge in the competition for highly-paid jobs in later life.

“When you are an employer faced with a number of people competing for those jobs and you’ve got particularly bright young professionals from countries across Europe who might be native speakers of German, Polish or whatever, and who also speak very good English and another language too, why would you take a mono-lingual Brit?” she said. “It gives you a competitive advantage in the workplace.”

Mike Kelly, professor of French at Southampton University, said higher education institutions were “finding it very difficult” to recruit undergraduates from state schools.

“An increasing proportion of students doing languages degrees are from independent schools,” he said. “This is a serious worry for universities who, of course, want to widen participation.”

CiLT surveyed 2,000 schools as part of an annual report into the state of language teaching in England.

The study of languages has been in freefall since a Labour decision in 2004 to make the subject optional at 14.

Last summer, only 43 per cent of all teenagers took a foreign language GCSE – almost half the proportion a decade earlier.

The survey found just 40 per cent of pupils took the subject in comprehensives, compared with 79 per cent in independent schools and 91 per cent in academically-selective state grammar schools.

8At the same time, many state schools are also cutting the amount of lesson time devoted to the subject in the first three years of secondary education – traditionally the period when pupils are given the most exposure to foreign languages.

A third of comprehensives reported a reduction in weekly class time and a fifth said pupils now got just two years worth of compulsory language lessons instead of three.

In a further disclosure, the study found French remained the most popular subject in all schools. Spanish has now overtaken German as the second most studied language, it was disclosed, but independent schools were much more likely to offer lessons in other subjects such as Arabic, Mandarin and Russian.

Urdu was the only language offered by more state than independent schools, with one-in-10 Government-funded schools now providing it compared with just two per cent in the private sector.




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