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Diplomas bring language learning to life

There was a touch of drizzle in the air in Marylebone. But 12 students of French, Spanish and Business Studies from the Compton School hadn’t really noticed. They were excited to be making the commute from their school in Barnet to Hotel La Place, where they would learn about jobs including front of house, catering and hotel management. They translated dishes on the menu into French and Spanish, and picked up customer service tips through foreign language role plays with customers. They learned about way the business is run and how languages play a part in aspects such as recruitment and marketing.

Of course, this isn’t an everyday language learning experience in England. The Compton School had taken part in the Business Language Champions Programme (www.cilt.org.uk/blc), co-ordinated in the Capital by Regional Language Network London (www.rln-london.com). But the Diploma in Languages and International Communication can make this brand of practical learning a reality for schools in the near future.

From 2011, seventeen new Diplomas will be offered to 14 to 19 year olds in schools in England – the first five of which have been taught from September 2008. Diplomas are set to become one of the three main learning choices alongside GCSEs and A levels in combination and Apprenticeships. Blending both practical and theoretical learning, they provide a recognised route into further and higher education and into direct employment. These qualifications are available at three levels – Foundation, Higher and Advanced. While the first 14 Diplomas have focused on business sectors, the latest three have a different, subject-focused slant – covering Science, Humanities and Social Sciences, and Languages and International Communication.

The challenge for those leading the development of the Diploma in Languages and International Communication is to put the subject in context, to bring language learning to life for the students. The recent decline in language learning has been attributed by some to younger students not understanding the relevance of languages in the world. Early soundings from the consultation on the Diploma indicate that this programme of learning – which takes its lead from the workplace and everyday life – can both motivate students and offer employers the skills mix they need.

In particular, the Diploma in Languages and International Communication will give young people the cultural skills and knowledge that businesses look for. This international and intercultural aspect, as the title suggests, is a vital component. Until March 2009, the qualification was known as the ‘Diploma in Languages’, but following research involving employers and students including language learners at the College of North East London (CONEL), the decision was made to add ‘international communication’ to the title. Students found the new name, which better reflected the content, more relevant and appealing.

According to Torcato Coutinho, curriculum manager for modern and community languages at the CONEL, FE has a clear role to play in the Diploma.

Mr Coutinho said: "I believe Further Education has always been a very good at delivering applied language learning because of the contact that language departments have with vocational departments and employers.

"At CONEL we understand that languages need to be taught in contexts that are relevant to the needs and interests of the learners – the Diploma in Languages and International Communication will be doing just that."

To find out more about the Diploma in Languages and International Communication, visit www.diploma-in-languages.co.uk. The consultation process on the Diploma continues until the end of May 2009.

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