Concerns in Scotland over modern foreign languages


Business, academic and cultural organisations have expressed concern at how foreign languages are faring at Scottish schools, and have called on the government to offer more support, particularly for German and Russian.

A joint paper from the German, Swiss and Austrian consulates submitted to Dr Alastair Allan, the minister for learning, last week cited fears for the “ultimate demise” of German in schools if current trends continue.

Mentioning the SNP’s plan for Scottish pupils to adopt the so-called 1+2 policy – of learning two foreign languages by the end of primary – the paper adds: “A review of the situation in 2014 leaves no doubt that the Scottish government’s ambitious targets for increasing language provision have not been met as far as German is concerned. The uptake of German in Scottish schools has not increased.”

Professor Pavlos Dimitratros of the Adam Smith Business School at Glasgow University said German, Russian, Spanish, Chinese and other languages had all gained significant footholds in international business transactions, owing to globalisation. 

Yet UK students and graduates were tending to become too reliant on English. “It’s not to say English is not widely spoken of course, but many emerging countries are coming along dramatically and we will fall behind as an economy if we are too complacent,” he said.

“The risk is that the less we provide at school in terms of languages, the more this trend will grow,” Prof Dimitratos said.

Jenny Carr, chair of the Scotland-Russia Forum, an independent voluntary organisation based in Edinburgh, said there was almost no Russian taught in Scottish schools nowadays and it was in danger of disappearing for good once the SQA dropped exam provision this summer. That move is planned despite a sharp rise in the number of recent candidates.

“We believe it is damaging to Scotland to raise a generation of children unaware of Russia’s rich cultural heritage, its huge contribution to space exploration, wonderful folk tales, dramatic history, beautiful language and other aspects of Russian life.

“Without this knowledge how can they, and the adults they will become, make sense of current affairs in Russia, or seek to do business there in later life?”

A Scottish government spokeswoman denied languages were being neglected.

“We are investing £9 million over two years in our ambitious 1+2 policy. Overall the number of pupils learning languages at Higher level in Scotland is up eight per cent since 2010,” she said. “We fully expect the range of languages to increase as 1+2 is implemented across the country, and this will provide opportunities for German to become more widely available as capacity is built within the system.”



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