In my last post I ranted and talked about the state of the languages nation, so here I am going to share some of my thinking into how I think it could be done! Any of the good ideas I have are mainly stolen and at best blended with the ideas of such wonderful thinkers as Derek Wise, Michael Wardle, Darren Mead, John Connor, Ewan McIntosh et al and I must confess that anything that sounds rubbish is inevitably a 100% me, but here we go. The following is the introduction from an essay I am writing which form the basis for a presentation (see the handout at the top of this post) I am giving in Southampton on Sunday (which if you would like to watch it live streamed and probably see me trip over or faint you can tune in here at 9:45am GMT Sunday 13th February). If you think it is interesting, then tune into the broadcast or catch up with the blog post next week.
Languages : Reboot
It is 2011 and we are in danger. By we, I mean those of us who may have an interest in the following ideas; learners and teachers of languages. Danger may seem a strong word, but I do not use it lightly. We are in danger of turning our children off languages. The current government has put in place the English Baccalaureate which will encourage “more rigourous, academic study of language” and like it or not this concept will inevitably lead to a rise on the numbers of language learners continuing to study languages up to the age of sixteen. The great caveat is that if we continue with the mundane, memory based, rote learning and nullifying contexts of the current GCSE, we will lose any sense of developing linguists and we will continue to keep only a very small proportion of those who study a language up to the age of 16 studying languages up to A-level and beyond once they have achieved their baccalaureate. The current government’s plan with the Ebacc is not to develop a new generation of great linguists, it is to create a new generation of learners who see languages as an elite subject which marks the academically bright from the proletariat. This will, in the long run, lead to continuing decreases in the number of languages undergraduates and a languages deskilling of the general population, including those in the business and commerce sector.
Most believe that the cause of the general apathy towards learning a “foreign” language in the UK is the globlish phenomenon. Everyone speaks English so why should I bother learning anything else? To a certain extent this is true but you and I have rehearsed the arguments against this a thousand times in defence of our subject and we know them to be true; intercultural understanding, employability, improved communication skills, the prevalence of the BRIC economies etc. And the real downer about the globlish situation? There is nothing we can do about it. In our ever shrinking world, with all of its inequalities, problems and vast opportunities, you probably can get by on English and we certainly can not halt the growth of English as a global language.
So are we impotent in the face of this danger? I do not believe so. We can change the hearts and minds of our children towards language learning. We do it every day. We work incredibly hard to create engaging and powerful learning experiences in our classrooms despite all of the barriers we may face (reduced curriculum time, learner or school apathy, poor examination system, boring contexts and text books etc). Some of these barriers are not within our power to overcome, yet, I am going to argue and exemplify, we can definitely make moves to re-empower ourselves and our profession, we can make language learning such a rich and holistic learning experience that we are not only developing great language learners but as importantly great 21st Century learners. We can show learners, school leaders and the rest of the educational world that learning another language is not only a fantastic way to develop effective learners but it is probably the best and most flexible tool to develop learners who can “learn, unlearn and relearn”. (Tofler, Alvin)
The models and ideas I am proposing are not revolutionary, they are simply evolutionary. We are now at a point where, although our system of language learning and teaching is not entirely broken (there are fantastic examples of truly effective practice happening every day) our disk drive is fragmented, we have a lot of old and now corrupt data which has dragged our approach to a grinding trudge. We do not need to reinvent the wheel or throw out the baby with the bath water, but we do need to do something to pull together powerful, purposeful pedagogy and ensure we remould language learning into a relevant and holistic learning experience. Ask any ICT technician what to do and he or she will give you the answer “turn it off and turn it back on again”. Well, they are right, it is time for a Languages : Reboot.