Report: Scotland Needs More Languages

English may be the most widely used language in the world, but is it enough to only speak English? That’s the question Scotland is asking itself after the release of the British Council’s Language Rich Europe report. Unsurprisingly, the answer appears to be “no.”

The report highlights two related areas of concern: the declining number of Scottish students taking upper-level foreign language courses and the potential obstacles this trend places in front of Scottish businesses.

According to the report, back in 2001 most Scottish students took 4 years of foreign languages in secondary school. However, as of 2010 only 67% percent got that far.

In today’s global economy, the lack of foreign language proficiency could have unpleasant consequences for Scottish businesses. Already, the report says,

“Scottish employers tend to circumvent rather than address language skill needs by exporting only to Anglophone countries or those where they can easily find English speakers.”

That won’t work forever. So, the Scottish government has set about increasing the number of students who become proficient in foreign languages, in part by encouraging students to learn at least two languages after their mother tongue, starting in primary school.

Minister for Learning Alasdair Allan told the BBC:

“This government has set an ambitious target to increase the value of our international exports by 50% by 2017, and ensuring our workforce has the right skills to compete internationally will play an important role in achieving this. This is why we are committed to reinvigorating language learning and helping more Scottish pupils learn a second language such as French, German, Spanish or Chinese in primary school.”

To start with, the minister added, pilot language learning programs will be developed at 9 Scottish primary schools.

It’s much easier for children to learn a language when they start at a young age, so it seems like the initiative is on the right track, at least.

Burns Night Celebrates Scots Language

Happy birthday, Robert Burns! The “”national poet of Scotland” was born 254 years ago today, on 25 January 1759. During his lifetime, Burns earned widespread and lasting acclaim for his poetry, much of which was written in the Scots language or in the Scottish dialect of English. His best-known works include “To a Mouse,” “A Red,Red, Rose” and “Tam O’Shanter.” He also collected and preserved existing traditional Scottish songs and poems, including the New Year’s classic “Auld Lang Syne.”

In Scotland, his birthday is celebrated as “Burns Night.” Traditional festivities center around a “Burns Supper.” These gatherings follow a traditional format and menu. First, the host welcomes his guests. Then, the “Selkirk Grace” is recited to give thanks for the meal. The menu includes traditional Scottish foods like Scotch broth, mashed potatoes and turnips, and of course, haggis.

Haggis, in fact, is the centerpiece of the meal, and is brought to the table with great fanfare and to the accompaniment of bagpipes. Burn’s poem “Address to a Haggis” is recited, and everything is washed down with plentiful amounts of Scotch whisky.

This year, there’s an additional bonus for Burns enthusiasts. A previously unpublished letter from Burns to actress Elizabeth Kemble on the subject of slavery (Burns was an abolitionist) will be published for the first time today. In the letter, Burns asks Kemble to take care of an unpublished abolitionist manuscript for him, requesting her to “lay the book under lock & key, when you go out.”

Project director Helena Anderson Wright told the Daily Record:

“It is quite remarkable that, over 200 years after Burns’ death, a find like this is still possible. Now that we have had it authenticated, we are delighted to share this letter with the world. There is still a mystery surrounding its complete interpretation which will no doubt be hotly debated by academics for years to come.”