Britain lags behind in language teaching

April 5, 1996

Foreign language teaching in the United Kingdom has improved little in more than 30 years and is far inferior to that offered by many of our European competitors, a leading linguistics expert has claimed.

Peter Skehan, director of the Centre for Applied Linguistic Research, at Thames Valley University launched officially last month, says that there is a desperate need for more research into language teaching in order to identify ways to improve teacher training and student motivation.

And Professor Skehan says that while methods of teaching of English as a foreign language are generally far better, there is a need for greater research in the face of advances made by countries like Australia, which are threatening to cash in on the lucrative Pacific rim markets.

He said: "I would say that modern languages are taught almost as badly as when I learned languages 35 years ago. They are too exam-orientated and young people have little understanding of why they are actually learning languages.

"There is a dearth of research being carried out. I want to see more effective teacher training and more cultural awareness among students of the languages they are learning.

"There is a lot already that could be applied to foreign language teaching from Englishlanguage teaching."

But Professor Skehan warned that, good as English teaching is, the UK could no longer take for granted its traditionally pre-eminent position for teaching the mother tongue.

He said: "There still has not been enough research in this sphere and this contrasts with recent developments in Australia and New Zealand. We could be in danger of losing our crown as the place to learn English."

The centre for Applied Linguistic Research will focus on two main areas - language learning and its use across social, cultural and ethnic boundaries; and policy and practice in language education.

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