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Helga Lees on The Need for Foreign Language Speakers and Languages in the FE Sector

Along with the sciences and engineering, language learning is being neglected, and the numbers of students studying languages is falling. In a global economy, and a shrinking world, the ability to communicate may well set apart the successful countries from the also ““ rans.

As part of our effort to promote awareness of the need for languages, FE News are delighted to welcome Helga Lees to share her thoughts on the situation and the way forward. Helga Lees is the author of German with a Smile, which incorporates a book / handbook and a website and offers a new and fresh way to learn a new language.

Languages to Remain Competitive

The director of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) recently spoke about the need for foreign language speakers if this country is to remain competitive. What about all the language initiatives by the Government over the years to promote language learning among the population of the UK? What have been the tangible results or has it all been just so much hot air? Have the questions of “how” and “how best is proficiency to be achieved” really ever effectively been addressed?

Certainly, there is plenty of interest in the adult population to learn a language but with course fees rising all the time, fewer courses are actually getting off the ground. Where they are supported well initially, we have to ask ourselves how is the teaching / learning being facilitated. As there is often a considerable drop out rate because students either find the courses too taxing, too irrelevant to their needs or too boring, or all these things together, then are we getting the results we are looking for?

Wanting or Needing Languages

So what is to be done? We are always told British people are no good at languages; well, other nations would not be any better if they were not taught languages throughout their school lives. As this is only partially the case in this country, we need to help people effectively, when they either want to or for professional reasons need to learn other languages.

Unfortunately the language material available, although plentiful, is on the whole not suitable for the courses in FE or Adult Education. It is either too skimpy, e.g. phrasebooks and such like, or far too lengthy and complex, making life for teachers and students difficult because phasing and pacing needs to be right for course schedules which are quite different from schools.

Students here are not a captive audience as they are in mainstream education. They can easily vote with their feet and many do just that without having reached any level of proficiency in their chosen language. So where does that leave the object of the various language initiatives about which we hear on a regular basis?

The Minefield Confronted

I have written a course for German for native English speakers because of the reasons outlined above. As they are difficult to reach from the marketing point of view, publishers are just not interested in producing material for adults. When they do, they mostly get it wrong as business language courses which can make students suicidal. They are confronted with terribly difficult tasks without having been taught the basics and given time to digest the information. After all, a child takes about two years to learn its mothers’s language, being surrounded by the language all the time. Classes of between 1 and 2 hours over (for example) 10 weeks can only scratch the surface.

What about the financial basis to language learning in the classroom later in life? And classes are the best way to go forward in a language. Is the Government prepared to support language classes financially instead of expecting them to be more or less self supporting?

Only then will all this talk of making Britain more proficient in languages actually bring results. Otherwise let us hope the rest of the world is going to make even more strenuous efforts to learn English otherwise we shall be reduced to using sign language during the next Olympic games.

Once again, everyone at FE News would like to take this opportunity to thank Helga Lees for her contribution, and both wish her well in the future and hope to benefit from her experience in the years ahead.

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