Leader: What good is a boom if languages go bust?

December 20, 2002

The focus of the government's languages strategy is, rightly, on schools. But the impact will be felt in higher education before long, and it is hard to imagine it being positive. By encouraging language teaching in primary schools, ministers may be planting the seeds of higher demand in the future. But how many language departments will survive to see the boom? Stirling University's decision to abandon German is the latest in a trickle of closures that may turn into a flood as the numbers learning languages beyond the age of 14 dwindle.

Even the commitment to provide an "opportunity" for all seven-year-olds to learn a foreign language by the end of the decade gives little cause for optimism. Who knows how many children will exercise this right, or how much teaching they will receive? It will be 2020 before they reach higher education, having passed through secondary schools where specialist language teachers will be thinner on the ground.

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