Friday, May 31, 2013

The Pros And Cons Of Compulsory Language Learning

Far behind many of its European counterparts, the UK is finally getting ready for compulsory language education in its primary schools. As language enthusiasts, we obviously think this is a fantastic thing, but today we're trying to be diplomatic and present a fair and balanced argument for and against obligatory language learning.

For

The first photo taken of Earth, in 1968.
With the world becoming increasingly global and open, languages are a valuable skill. Particularly so in the UK, where monolingualism is rife amongst its youth, who are effectively the future of the nation. Since many other nations already have foreign languages in their curriculum from an early age, the British workforce of the future could be left lagging behind the other nations without it.

Speaking foreign languages has been shown to have huge benefits in terms of cognitive abilities, brain development and health. If today's youth aren't learning foreign languages for the economy, they should be learning it for their own development and the ability to lead richer lives.

Against

There are a lot of key subjects that can be considered to be more important than languages. Literacy and numeracy are always at the forefront in terms of education, and whenever new classes are added to curriculum, the time used to teach these subjects must be taken from another subject. Of course, it needn't be maths and English that lose out to foreign languages, the sciences and the humanities can end up with their contact hours slashed. Is there a particular subject that can be removed?

Which subjects will have to lose out?

Art: Some may argue that art could be one of the first subjects to lose time to foreign languages. It is not a particularly academic subject, especially at the primary level, but could we really take away art, one of the most creative subjects available to young minds, and effectively destroy any creativity they are harbouring?

St. Catherine of Alexandria, by Raphael.
History: To some, history is incredibly interesting and worthwhile, to others it's incredibly boring. Fans of this subject will argue that you can't understand the present, make plans for the future, or have an awareness of world affairs without learning what came before.

Geography: Geography was never a particular favourite subject of ours. Sure, we enjoyed looking at atlases and cool places to visit, finding funny place names and wondering what languages they spoke there. We did not, however, enjoy looking at soil or measuring traffic flow on the local main road.

Science: For people as nerdy as we are, science will always be considered one of the coolest subjects. You start to learn about how everything around us works, from the atom all the way up to the universe and almost everything in between. Most primary schools tend to focus on science in general instead of specialized subjects such as physics, chemistry and biology, but it would be very difficult to cut since it is certainly a very academic subject.

Music: Music is another of the so-called artsy-fartsy subjects that are said to nurture young talent and creativity. Is it necessary to have both music and art, or could we perhaps lose one (or combine them) in order to have languages on the timetable?

Religious Education: Some places, such as France, consider themselves secular when it comes to education. Others do not. Some parents prefer to send their children to religious schools in order to provide them with both empirical learning and theological learning. In these cases, it's going to be very difficult to take RE off the syllabus.

IT: Perhaps back when some of you were in primary school this wasn't such a big deal. Now it is. Is there anyone out there who doesn't use a computer daily? 

What are your opinions on compulsory language learning? Have you ever worked in or attended a school that had it? If so, do you feel that other subjects suffered as a result? We'd love to hear your opinions and experiences below in the comments.