In England, concern has been growing that the country’s students are falling behind when it comes to learning other languages.
In 2004, England stopped requiring that students over the age of 14 take classes in a foreign language. Since then, the percentage of students that have chosen to take foreign language classes has continued to drop. For example, according to the BBC, the number of students taking French GCSE has fallen 30% in the past 4 years.
Most of the other countries in the European Union require secondary school students to continue taking foreign language courses, so there is a concern that England will be at a competitive disadvantage in today’s global economy.
There are several advantages to becoming fluent in another language. First, it can make you more employable, especially as more and more companies start to do business internationally. Second, learning a foreign language can improve your speaking and writing skills in English.
For example, an American study completed in 1992 by the College Entrance Examination Board found that students who had studied a foreign language for 4 or more years scored higher on the verbal section of the SAT than students who had not. Other studies have shown that learning a foreign language boosts creativity and math skills as well.
With language learning becoming increasingly important, why did England choose to drop the language learning requirement for children over the age of 14?
According to the BBC, the change was made as part of a package of curriculum reform with the intention of reducing truancy among secondary school students. England’s government began pushing hard to reduce truancy in the early part of this decade, even going so far as to put parents in jail when their teenage children consistently skipped school.
The thought was that kids who didn’t want to be in school anyway would probably be more interested in vocational courses than in learning a foreign language, so the requirement was dropped.
Starting in 2011, language learning classes will be required for primary school students instead. Hopefully, children who start learning languages early will feel more inclined to keep studying them as they get older.