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Guardian Languages Debate: No Voice for Uk Minority Languages?

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Language // The Guardian languages debate: No voice for UK minority languages?
October 8, 2013 · by Rhona

Last month, the Guardian launched its Languages Debate, in partnership with the British Academy and complete with twitter hashtag (#languagesdebate), aimed a sparking a public discussion on language learning in the UK. The recent publication of statistics showing a decline in the numbers of foreign language graduates in the UK has will only add to current concern. Apparently, even Foreign Secretary William Hague has also been stressing out about the situation and its implications for his ministry, our general employability, and the UK’s competitiveness.
While this drop in graduate numbers isn’t great, the picture wasn’t exactly rosy beforehand. We in the UK are notoriously bad at learning languages, and many of the reasons for that come into play long before we reach university. So as a language-lover, as well as a language teacher, I agree with head of education for Guardian Professional, Wendy Berliner: it is time for a national debate on language learning.
National debates, however, are quite tricky things to pull off in the UK, made up as it is of several nations. Indeed, one of the articles published in the lead-up to the debate’s launch, by David Bellows, was entitled, “A-level languages: is Britain at risk of turning into a nation of monoglots?”, based on statistics showing a drop in the numbers of students taking A-level languages. Straight away, alarm bells are ringing; A-levels are not a Britain-wide qualification, and so any extrapolation based on that data is already flawed. The error is compounded in Rebecca Ratcliffe’s article, published under the #languagesdebate banner and entitled, “Why is UK language teaching in crisis?”, boldly beginning with the statement, “British foreign language skills are in crisis.” However, as the article looks exclusively at A-levels and GCSEs, and as its observations are largely limited to England, it is...

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