From education to employment

Reporter Joana Lage Looks at Languages

The Learning Skills Development Agency (LSDA) has just launched the results of the national survey they conducted among Futher Education colleges.

The report was called “Modern Foreign Languages in a Vocational Context” and it looks at the way that languages are incorporated into vocational courses and questions the importance given to the teaching and learning of languages.

Mastering Languages ““ The Way to a Better Future

We live in a multicultural world where diversity plays a central role in our society structure and development. Many are the varied ethnic groups and cultures that work and live together, especially in countries like the ones of the United Kingdom. To be able to understand this variety, relate and do business with all the different people, the better our social and communication skills are, the easier this task will be. In this process, languages play an essential part, as they improve our convivial capabilities and allow an easier inclusion in uncommon and unknown atmospheres.

But are we attributing the proper and fair importance to languages? Are languages taught properly and developed in the education sector? These are the two main questions that the LSDA’s national survey tried to answer. “Modern Foreign Languages in a Vocational Context” presents the results from the research project that analysed how Further Education, sixth form colleges, work-based learning providers and national education organisations integrate languages in their courses. Further, it aimed to recognize the difficulties and obstacles in learning and teaching languages but also to exhibit the positive achievements of some institutions and the success of these.

Results of Survey

In general the research project proved that there is a high interest in languages and that most people do recognize the benefits and advantages of mastering many languages. The number of enrolments per year on vocational courses that also include a foreign language is quite high, around 21,000. Nevertheless there is not a stable balance in the results, as these depend on the popularity of certain courses and also of geographical locations, Yorkshire and Humberside being the “hot spots”. The dominant language in these courses is usually Spanish, for different reasons, such as its usefulness for tourism, travelling and also business, like in the IT industry.

The obstacles in language learning and teaching vary as the report presented. These were the main problems revealed: individual needs, requirements and skill levels are difficult to study and control as people keep moving from one institution to another; insufficient funding and time given to languages in high proficiency courses; scarcity of specialised staff in the area of language teaching; and especially the assumed lack of sufficient skills in English of students and a perception that foreign languages are “hard” presents a drawback.

The Positives and Attitude

Notwithstanding were the positive results of the research which demonstrate a positive attitude towards learning and also teaching a new language, including: partnerships between LEA’s, schools, colleges and other education and training organisations is helping to provide the necessary resources and to keep up a high motivation; the use of different teaching methods, such as the use of engaging sources, IT, dedicated websites and e-learning are very helpful; creativeness among the teaching staff, presenting students the use of languages in real-life situations; and consequently, students being convinced and assured of the centrality of languages for their future, especially in terms of getting a better job.

This national survey is part of the National Languages Strategy (2002) “Languages for All: Languages for Life” which has the objective of changing the attitude of people towards languages and to raise the number of individuals competent in different languages. “Modern Foreign Languages in a Vocational Context” presents the main difficulties and success factors in the language sector but aims towards the future where languages are given a more central place in courses and a higher status.

Research Manager on British Language Tradition

The research manager at LSDA, Maggie Greenwood, commented: “The British have traditionally been very lazy at learning languages. But having a workforce with language skills is good for the economy and enhances people’s career prospects. This will become particularly important in 2012 when London hosts the Olympics.

“Yet,” she continued, “the integration of languages into the vocational curriculum is not yet established practice, with the possible exception of travel and tourism. Being able to speak and understand different languages is increasingly important as British society becomes more multi-cultural. But we need a stronger push to inspire people to learn and succeed.”

The way forward then is to have a more positive attitude towards languages, understand the advantages and benefits of mastering languages and motivate and inspire people to learn.

Joana Lage, Language Learning Correspondent

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