Monthly Archives: August 2013

Clarion University To Eliminate French and German Language Programs

Thanks to Dr. Robert Peckham for the following information. Please read and sign petition:

In the wake of a deficit, Clarion University of Pennsylvania is completely eliminating French and German. There is an online petition in favor of keeping them and music education:

Please show your support and sign.

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Foreign Language Uptick in UK

Richard Garner in The Independent, August 22, 2013:

A major increase in the take-up of modern foreign languages – the first for more than a decade – is being heralded as the brightest spot on the horizon in this year’s GCSE results.

Figures showed French, Spanish and German had all registered an increase – French up 15.5 per cent to 177,000, Spanish up 25.8 per cent to 91,000 and German up 9.4 per cent to 63,000.

The take-up of minority languages also rose by 5.1 per cent with the most popular being Italian with 5,136, urdu with 4,519 and Polish 3,933. Others increasing in popularity include Arabic (3,607) and Chinese (3,042).

The increase – after languages have been in virtual free-fall since Labour decided they should no longer be compulsory for 14 to 16-year-olds a decade ago – is being put down to Education Secretary Michael Gove’s introduction of the English Baccalaureate ranking in exam leagues.

Whilst English, maths, science and the humanities – history or geography – had survived better in the face of the move away from traditional academic subjects in the 1990’s and early 2000’s, scores of language teachers were sacked from secondary schools as the take-up of the subject plummeted.

“This year’s upturn in languages will be welcomed across the education sector and beyond,” said Michael Turner, director at the Joint Council for Qualifications – the umbrella body representing exam boards. “Not since 2008 have there been this many entries.

“However, it remains to be seen if this is the start of a trend and if students continue to study a language at A-level.”

Last week’s A-level results revealed a depressingly familiar picture of a further decline in take-up – with a 9.9per cent fall in the take up of French and 11.1 per cent drop in German only minimally offset by a 4.1 per cent rise in Spanish.

The rise in numbers studying the subject led to a drop in the percentage of pupils gaining A* to C grades in the subject – with French down from 66.2 per cent to 63.9 per cent, German from 43.3 per cent to 42.1 per cent and Spanish from 66.8 per cent to 66.2 per cent. However, exam boards explained this by saying that the rise had attracted a broader range of candidates to study the exam.

Katja Hall, chief policy director at the CBI, said: “It’s good to see the big rise in language entrants but the accelerating drop-off at A-level shows there is a huge amount of ground to claw back since compulsory GCSEs were scrapped.

“It is better late than never to make languages mandatory at primary school (the will be compulsory for seven-year-olds) but it will be years before we can reap the rewards fully.”

Education Minister Elizabeth Truss said: “Today’s results show the EBacc has not just arrested the decline in the study of academic subjects at GCSE – it is reversing it.

“I am particularly delighted to see a languages revival – with an increase in the number of entries to French, German and Spanish GCSEs after years of decline.”

Kathryn James, director of policy at the National Association of Head Teachers, added: “The slight fall in top grades was to be anticipated given the wider ability range now taking these subjects.”

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Number of A-Level Students Studying Foreign Languages on the Decline

Rebecca Ratcliffe in The Guardian, August 15, 2013:

Drop in number of A-level students studying foreign languages

Exam boards to launch inquiry as students shun French and German for sciences and economics

Spanish and French dictionaries
Entries to French A-levels fell by almost 10%, although Spanish bucked the trend, with a 4% increase. Photograph: Christopher Thomond for the Guardian

A major inquiry is under way after the number of teenagers taking traditional modern foreign languages at A-level fell to its lowest level for more than a decade.

Examination results released on Thursday show students are shunning French and German for the sciences and economics, triggering concern from the three main exam boards.

Entries to German were down 11.13% compared with last year, while French fell by 9.9%. Spanish was the only language to buck the trend, with a 4.08% increase.

Andrew Hall, chief executive of AQA, one of the biggest exam boards, said the boards would research why languages were so unpopular – and why comparatively few A-level language students achieve the top grades.

Some 6.9% of students sitting French, German and Spanish achieved an A* compared with 8.4% of those sitting physics, chemistry and biology.

“When we saw that languages were down again, we sat down and said we need to move this away from anecdote to evidence to find out what’s happening here,” Hall said. “We can’t sort how languages are taught in schools. What we can do is provide information to others to find out how the education system can be improved. We hope that teachers will get involved and we’re keen to talk to government about our findings.”

He questioned why the proportion of language entries getting A* was so small. “Is there something in the design of the qualification? We don’t believe so, but researching and challenging ourselves is important.”

Ofqual announced last week that it would investigate variations in the number of top grades awarded to sixth formers, citing French, German and Spanish as examples.

Professor Michael Kelly, head of languages at Southampton University and director of the Routes into Languages programme, said the slump in entries was partly a knock-on effect caused by a drop in GCSE entries for languages, but added: “There is a worry about language A-levels being unpredictable and being marked too harshly.

“Teachers find it very hard to estimate what a student will get in their exams, and there’s a danger that these students – especially high achievers – are being rerouted into subjects where they’re likely to do much better.”

Kelly also put the decline in French and German down to a growing interest in a broader range of subjects including Spanish, Russian and Arabic.

The number of students sitting economics exams this summer shot up by 7.45%, while chemistry, further mathematics and physics also experienced a boost in entries of more than three percentage points.

Lesley Davies, director of quality and standards at the Pearson exam board, said teenagers had responded to the need for more scientists and mathematicians.

“Eighteen-year-olds today were 11 at the time of the economic downturn, they’ve lived through all the issues that we’ve faced in the UK, and globally, over recent years. Young people have answered the rallying call of universities and employers and have made choices that will help their future careers.”

Boys fuelled an increase in the number of students studying the sciences, which accounted for 17.8% of all subjects taken this year, compared with 17.0% in 2012.

In physics, boys made up 79.3% of entries – an increase of 3.8% this year. Entries for girls taking physics fell by 0.2%.

Boys’ entries for English A-level fell by 2.3%, while entries from girls for the subject rose by 0.6%.

Commenting on the gender gap, Hall said: “Clearly there are very strong differences in A-level trends which existed over time, but we’ve noticed a widening of the gap this year – why, we don’t know, but the supply of teachers will be very important in determining this in the future.

“It’s about improving the information and guidance that’s being given to people at 16, which is a very early age to be making these decisions.”

Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said teachers were “very aware” of the need to break gender stereotypes.

“We’ve seen very good examples of female engineers who go and talk to young people and explain that physics isn’t just a boy’s subject.”

Other subjects suffering a slump in interest were physical education (-14.53%), design and technology (-8.54%) and drama (8.42%).

Pressure on school budgets means fewer students are sitting extra qualifications such as critical thinking (-11.37%) and general studies (-11.24%), said Davies.

“We mustn’t forget the environment we’re in – resources are tightening and where as before students might have done four or five A-levels, now those extra classes are being dropped.”

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The Power of the Bilingual Brain

Jeffrey Kluger in Time, July 29, 2013:

Never mind how well spoken you might be now, you will never again be as adept with languages as the day you were born. Indeed, the youngest person in any room is almost always the best linguist there too. There are 6,800 languages in the world, and since you can’t know where you’ll be born, you have to pop from the womb to be able to speak any one of them. That talent fades fast — as early as nine months after birth, some of our language synapses start getting pruned away. But well into your grammar-school years, your ability to learn a second — or third or fourth — language is still remarkable.

That, it turns out, is very good for the brain. New studies are showing that a multilingual brain is nimbler, quicker, better able to deal with ambiguities, resolve conflicts and even resist Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia longer. All of this is prompting public schools to implement language-immersion programs for kids as young as kindergarteners, as I report in the new issue of TIME; nowhere is that more evident than in Utah, where 20% of all public schools offer K-12 dual-language instruction, with students taking half their classes every day in English and half in either Spanish, French, Mandarin or Portuguese. To date, representatives from 22 other states have gone to Utah to learn more about the program.

The kids in bilingual classes in Utah and elsewhere aren’t thinking much about the nature of their brains when they go to school each morning; they’re only aware of the rich and lyrical experience of living and learning bilingually. But scientists — particularly neurologists, psychologists and educational specialists — are watching closely. In a polyglot world, a largely monoglot nation like the U.S. is at last moving to catch up — and not a moment too soon.

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