Practical acquisition 1

May 20, 2010

I share Anthony Bushell's concern about the decline of modern languages in the UK ("Linguistic isolationism", 13 May). However, I do not subscribe to his view that it is the "great works of European literature" that should form the basis of such degrees.

Of course, there should still be a place for some courses that concentrate on languages' associated cultures. But if the UK wishes to maintain a "place in the European conversation", we should acknowledge that foreign languages also have a functional role that can enhance one's reach in any discipline.

As an A-level student, I was indignant at being required to read Friedrich Schiller when I wanted to be able to write a good application letter for a summer job in Stuttgart. Nothing worse than enforced classical literature to put you off languages, I thought.

I then moved on to what was then an innovative joint degree in mathematics and German. There we read "intensively and extensively in the target language", as Bushell recommends, but using sources such as political manifestos, government economic papers and weekly doses of Der Spiegel.

So am I "ill-equipped" to deal with educated Germans? I have presented papers at German conferences, negotiated successfully with Berlin authorities and even maintained cordial relations with a German mother-in-law. The study of classical literature is a fine and noble pursuit, but there is a wider world of communication to embrace if we wish to encourage modern language acquisition.

David Bowers, Head of learning development University Campus Suffolk.

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