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Survey Findings—Foreign Language Students in the UK Lack the Skills to Communicate

Communication and Language Learning in Classroom
Survey Findings—Foreign Language Students in the UK Lack the Skills to Communicate
on November, 17 2014

A survey conducted on language learning in the UK showed that students lack the skills to communicate and only understand basic phrases of the language they are learning. According to a survey, the foreign language students could barely communicate. It’s a reason for concern since about eight out of ten students that studied German and French, which are two of the most popular languages offered in schools, only understand the basic phrases of these languages. Four out of ten students that are learning Japanese, Russian, Italian and Spanish said that it would be difficult for them to write, speak or understand anything. The worst is seen in the study of Mandarin, where almost half of the students did not register any progress.

Strong desire to learn foreign languages

Where does the problem lie in this case? It seems that the failure is in the design of the existing language courses, since communication skills were not included in the curriculum. It looks that way since the students know the benefits that learning other languages will bring them. They think that this gives them valuable lessons to understand other cultures, better job opportunities overseas and even help them in their careers within the United Kingdom. While the current situation is not promising, a majority of the young students would still want to pursue learning a foreign language.

Survey results

The research, which was conducted by the polling organization, ICM Research, was commissioned by the British Academy and the Guardian, due to the decline in language learning in the UK.

There were 1,001 respondents to the survey, who were between the ages of 14 to 24. It came as a surprise that many young people have the desire to learn a foreign language but they do not have the confidence in their ability to put what they learn into practice. There were many reasons behind the reservations the respondents gave. There were students that did not study a language in their A-level because they felt that it was very challenging and many more were intimidated by the prospect of memorizing vocabulary and understanding grammar rules.

It was also learned that many schools treat languages as secondary subjects, since the focus was on English and Math subjects.

Suggestions for early learning

Michael Turner, the director-general of the Joint Council for Qualification (JCQ) believes that language learning should be compulsory from age seven. He said that there are already reforms created for the A-level syllabus to prepare the students for university study.

But there is someone that opposed said reforms. According to Katrin Kohl, German literature professor at Jesus College in Oxford, the reforms only forced the teachers to give chunks of language lessons so students could pass their A-level exams, but these do not give them the confidence to use what they have learned.

Situation in the United States

The need to implement early language learning initiatives is also needed in the United States. While the country is multi-lingual there is a need for Americans to learn other languages to improve foreign relations and boost the economy, according to a statement delivered in 2010 by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. And because understanding the basics of various subjects begin in elementary school, language acquisition should start in that level as well. It is also easier for younger children to assimilate languages.

Officials are looking into the option of hiring teachers who are bilingual instead of hiring teachers specifically to teach languages.

This is important for the United States so the country does not get left behind. After all, it is projected that only about half of the world's population will be speaking English by 2050.

Day Translations Team

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