Self-help the only way to speak in tongues 1

July 9, 2009

Your report on the dearth of foreign-language skills among British graduates emphasises one of the problems that has beset the long-running debate about the decline of such skills in higher education: paralysis by analysis ("Mind your languages", 2 July). There is no coherent strategy to address this serious issue, and practical solutions are in short supply.

Sadly, there is no point looking to the Government for help: after all, its policies - particularly the assault on languages in secondary schools - have diminished the status of foreign-language competence.

Self-help is the order of the day, and University College London's inclusion of a foreign-language entry requirement and its sponsorship of a languages-oriented local academy school are laudable examples of this.

But a bolder way to highlight the importance of languages would be to ensure that every undergraduate degree course with the words "international" or "European" in its title integrates a foreign language into its syllabus, and contains at least an option to undertake a work or study placement in a country where English is not the first language.

Such courses should do what they say on the tin. Without offering the opportunity (preferably, the requirement) to study a foreign language at an advanced level, their titles ring hollow, for graduates who complete them will not be suitably equipped to thrive or even survive in the global employment market.

David Head, Dean, faculty of business and law, University of Lincoln.

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