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 (www.telegraph.co.uk), 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.