Monthly Archives: February 2013

Saskatchewan Business Students Encouraged to Study Foreign Languages

Written by Emma Graney for The Leader Post, February 23, 2013:

Business students in Saskatchewan will soon be encouraged to take more foreign languages.

The government is developing an international education strategy, a big part of which aims to better connect Saskatchewan students with international trade and business markets.

And that, says David Boehm, assistant deputy minister of the advanced education, means focusing on foreign languages.

“It’s a priority, because Saskatchewan … is very connected to the world – we’re a very export-dependant province – so enhanced relationships will be very important and will serve the province very well in the future,” he said.

“One of the ways to enhance those relationships is encourage business programs … to put an emphasis on the development of international languages so they can interact with those markets and those opportunities in a more effective manner.”

University of Regina business faculty dean Andrew Gaudes agrees a focus on languages can only be a good thing for business students.

Having taught abroad in Egypt, Kyiv and France, Gaudes knows firsthand the benefits international relationships can bring to the business world, particularly when it comes to languages.

“We know that this is an area that’s going to be more in demand as students graduate into business and industry,” he said.

“We are definitely a global marketplace here in Saskatchewan and our students need to be able to … appreciate what is going on in other parts of the world, and that includes having a working level of a second language.”

At this point, it’s not clear how much money the government will funnel into its strategy.

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More Advice on How to Learn a Foreign Language

Anne Merritt in, December 19, 2012:

It’s a myth that intelligent people are better at learning languages.
Sure, it doesn’t hurt, especially when innately academic types hold an arsenal of learning strategies. Most language learning skills, however, are in fact habits, which can be formed through a bit of discipline and self-awareness.

Here are the five most common mistakes language learners make – and how to correct them…

Not listening enough

There’s a school of linguistics that believes language learning begins with a “silent period”. Just as babies learn to produce language by hearing and parroting sounds, language learners need to practise listening in order to learn. This can reinforce learned vocabulary and structures, and help learners see patterns in language.

Listening is the communicative skill we use most in daily life, yet it can be difficult to practise unless you live in a foreign country or attend immersive language classes. The solution? Find music, podcasts, TV shows and movies in the target language, and listen, listen, listen, as often as possible.

Lack of curiosity

In language learning, attitude can be a key factor in how a student progresses.

Linguists studied attitude in language learning in the 1970s in Quebec, Canada, when tension was high between Anglo- and Francophones. The study found that Anglophones holding prejudices against French Canadians often did poorly in French language learning, even after studying French for years as a mandatory school subject.

On the other hand, a learner who is keen about the target culture will be more successful in their language studies. The culturally curious students will be more receptive to the language and more open to forming relationships with native speakers.

Rigid thinking

Linguists have found that students with a low tolerance of ambiguity tend to struggle with language learning.

Language learning involves a lot of uncertainty – students will encounter new vocabulary daily, and for each grammar rule there will be a dialectic exception or irregular verb. Until native-like fluency is achieved, there will always be some level of ambiguity.

The type of learner who sees a new word and reaches for the dictionary instead of guessing the meaning from the context may feel stressed and disoriented in an immersion class. Ultimately, they might quit their language studies out of sheer frustration. It’s a difficult mindset to break, but small exercises can help. Find a song or text in the target language and practice figuring out the gist, even if a few words are unknown.

A single method

Some learners are most comfortable with the listen-and-repeat drills of a language lab or podcast. Some need a grammar textbook to make sense of a foreign tongue. Each of these approaches is fine, but it’s a mistake to rely on only one.

Language learners who use multiple methods get to practise different skills and see concepts explained in different ways. What’s more, the variety can keep them from getting stuck in a learning rut.
When choosing a class, learners should seek a course that practises the four language skills (reading, writing, listening and speaking). For self-study, try a combination of textbooks, audio lessons, and language learning apps.


It doesn’t matter how well a person can write in foreign script, conjugate a verb, or finish a vocabulary test. To learn, improve, and truly use your target language, we need to speak.

This is the stage when language students can clam up, and feelings of shyness or insecurity hinder all their hard work. In Eastern cultures where saving face is a strong social value, EFL teachers often complain that students, despite years of studying English, simply will not speak it. They’re too afraid of bungling the grammar or mispronouncing words in a way that would embarrass them.

The key is that those mistakes help language learners by showing them the limits of language, and correcting errors before they become ingrained. The more learners speak, the quicker they improve.

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English Teens Among ‘Worst in Europe’ at Languages

This is not a title anyone should be proud of! Why do students in English-speaking countries seem to have such trouble learning a foreign language? Article was written by Andrew Marszal for The Telegraph (, February 17, 2013:

Teenagers in 14 different European countries were tested on their ability to speak the first foreign language taught in schools, which for England was French.

In reading, writing and listening tests, English pupils were ranked bottom.

The study suggests youngsters are lagging far behind their European peers, with many unable to understand more than basic words or phrases.

Just 11 per cent of English pupils studying French were considered “independent users” in writing – the lowest in Europe for a first foreign language. In comparison, across all countries, two-fifths of students were at this level.

Only 9.2 per cent were ranked in the top category for French reading – again, the lowest in Europe for a first foreign language.

The highest performers overall, based on reading, listening and writing skills, were Sweden, Malta and the Netherlands, the research found.
But France, where students’ English skills were tested, also performed badly, perfoming second-worst in all three disciplines.
The study, conducted as part of the European Survey on Language Competences (ESLC) was released on the same day a new report from the British Academy found that the UK’s poor foreign language skills were hurting the economy.
The British Academy report said a “vicious circle of monolingualism” was taking place, as the dearth of necessary skills forced British employers to “sidestep language issues”, removing incentives for new language students.
“It is clear that the UK still has a long way to go in order to catch up with our European neighbours and international competitors,” said Professor Nigel Vincent, Vice-President of the British Academy. “Languages are vital for the health and wellbeing of the education and research base, for UK competitiveness, and for individuals and society at large.”
It also found that the current focus on French, Spanish and German was too narrow to meet modern global business needs.
“Indications of future demand show that a growing number of languages will be needed as the UK expands its global connections and responds to new economic realities,” it says. “These include not only world languages such as Mandarin, Arabic and Russian – but also Turkish, Farsi and Polish.”
The ESLC study, conducted by the National Foundation for Educational Researc, tested around 1,444 pupils in 53 schools in England.
Around nine in 10 pupils in England were considered “basic users” in their French reading, meaning at best, they could only understand short simple texts.
Some were only able to understand short passages a single phrase at a time, and others were not even at this level.

In listening, 93% of English pupils studying French were “basic users” – this means that they could understand simple phrases and expressions relating to areas such as personal information, shopping and geography.
Responding to the report, a Department for Education spokesman said: “We are addressing the chronic lack of attention paid to foreign languages in schools.

“It is vital young people start studying a language at an earlier age. That is why from next year we are ensuring that children learn a language from age seven.

“They can then build on that at secondary school – where the EBacc is reversing the decline in the number of pupils studying languages.”

Last year the Government announced that for the first time all primary school children will have to learn a foreign language from age seven. Currently about one in ten state primary schools offers no language lessons at all and a further 20 per cent only offer it to some year groups, according to the most recent official figures.

The move to make languages a requirement from age seven will take effect next year.

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Michigan Considers Dropping Foreign Language Requirement for High School Students

Steve Carmody for, February 9, 2011

A bill in the state legislature would drop the foreign language requirement in Michigan high schools.

State Representative Phil Potvin dismisses the suggestion that learning a foreign language will better prepare Michigan teens for a globalized economy. He says the requirement has the opposite effect. Potvin says the foreign language requirement pushes kids to drop out of school.

“It’s forcing kids into frustration…it’s forcing kids into failure….at a time that I thought we were here to set up success,” says Potvin.

Potvin says he wants to give students the option of taking more vocational courses, which he believes will better prepare them for their future. He says, under his bill, students could still take foreign language classes if they wish.

Foreign language teachers are criticizing a proposal to drop the foreign language requirement from Michigan’s high school curriculum.

Jackie Moase-Burke is a former president of the Michigan World Language Association. She says school children need to learn foreign languages to prepare for their future.

“We believe it is in the best interest of students, the community and the nation…to have a citizenry that is linguistically competent in more than one language….that understands other cultures,” says Moase-Burke.

A similar bill failed to pass the legislature in its last session. But Potvin says there is more, bi-partisan support for his bill this year.

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Danish Government’s Proposed Budget Cuts to Danish Language Courses for Immigrants Opposed

Justin Cremer for The Copenhagen Post, November 8, 2012:

The government’s proposal to cut 200 million kroner from the funds available to language centres that teach Danish to adult foreigners looks to be scrapped thanks to the influence of far-left party Enhedslisten (EL).

As part of the ongoing budget negotiations, EL, which looks like the government’s only route to secure a deal after talks with opposition parties Venstre (V) and Konservative (K) broke down early in the week, is insisting that the planned cuts to Danish classes be dropped.

“If what the government and Enhedslisten are currently negotiating becomes a reality, and we end up with a budget agreement, then the 200 million kroner budget cuts to Danish lessons will be removed,” EL’s spokesperson Johanne Schmidt-Nielsen told Politiken newspaper. “We believe that the cuts would seriously affect the standard of Danish language courses that refugees and immigrants receive. One needn’t be a professor of integration to see that it is precisely these Danish lessons that are essential for effective integration.”

When the government proposed the cuts in August, it pointed to high dropout rates as one of the reasons that the cuts should be made. About 30 percent of students who start Danish classes drop out before they finish, according to reports.

However, that claim was questioned by at least one headmaster of a Danish language centre.

“Language centres are the only educational system in Denmark where the school receives half of a student’s funding when they start their education and does not see the rest of the cost of educating that student until they graduate,” Walther Jeppesen, the headmaster of Sprogcentre Nordsjælland, told The Copenhagen Post in August. “The state does not lose money if our students do not graduate, but our students lose every time the state cuts our funding.”

EL’s attempt to avoid the cuts to the Danish language courses are just one element that will have to be ironed out as the budget negotiations move forward.

According to Politiken, EL is also insisting that the government backs off from its proposal to carry out more than 300 million kroner in cuts to the state railway operator DSB. EL also vocally opposed that proposal in August. Back then, party spokesperson Henning Hyllested said: “It is obviously a deterioration of public transportation.”

The budget negotiations are clearly working out well for EL. Earlier on Thursday, it reached a deal with the government on ‘social dumping’ – the exploitation of foreign workers – that will give government authorities more power to impose fines on employers and improve the registration of foreign workers in Denmark, among other things.

Among the other budget details still under negotiation are how to finance the removal of the much-maligned sugar and fat taxes and what to do with the controversial plan to make Danes, who work abroad for more than 183 days a year, pay Danish taxes from their earnings.

On Tuesday, V-K representatives said that they felt “thrown out” of the budget talks, and it has since been confirmed that the opposition parties are officially out of the negotiations.

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