Last week Simon Jenkins wrote an article which I probably don’t even need to link to, it has prompted a huge response, both from those who teach languages and those who don’t. In his article Mr Jenkins makes a number of points as to why he believes that learning languages in school is a pointless task. The comments on the article go some way to showing how people felt about what he said, but I wanted to put a response together to combat this rather disturbing suggestion.
I’m not going to deny that there is some fact in the article. Yes, on a practical day-to-day level there is no pressing urgency for people that speak English to be fluent in any other language. You can easily get by without it on holiday in major tourist destinations, and international businesses will have English speakers. Even the EU is likely to keep English as one of the key languages of communication as it is spoken by so many people. However, what I reject is that this therefore makes learning languages pointless.
Mr Jenkins needs to realise that the point of education isn’t just to produce people that are qualified and ready to work right away. Students come to school to find out what they like, what interests them, what might be important for them and also to have their minds opened to things that they may not have considered before. As language teachers, we don’t just teach lists of vocabulary and have students memorise grammar rules. Language teaching has come some way since Mr Jenkins’ experience. He need only take a look on Twitter at #MFLTwitterati or the active groups such as Secondary MFL Matters and Global Innovative Language Teachers on Facebook to see the dedicated teachers, always discussing new ways not just to teach language but to open students minds to the music, literature, film, politics and traditions of the countries of the language they are learning. Many of which would not be accessible to the same extent without an appreciation for, and knowledge of, the language too.