C'est le monde à l'envers:  Europe's leading source of economic news lecturing pedagogues that languages are important "for their own sake," not for success in business.  --  On Friday, the Financial Times of London complained that "educationalists have started to believe their own propaganda about their importance in underpinning the future economic prosperity of the country."  --  Faced with a "free fall" in the numbers of secondary school students studying languages since the subject have been made voluntary, the Financial Times said that educators should emphasize the value of studying languages for their own sake.  --  "Business knows that if it needs people fluent in both English and Mandarin it will find no shortage in China," said the Financial Times in an unsigned editorial comment.  "And U.K. companies need only look to London to find a huge reserve of native French speakers."  --  "None of which is to say that young people should not be encouraged to take up languages for their own sake," the Financial Times concluded.  "The government’s strategy of enthusing children long before they get to the age of 14 is to be welcomed.  But educationalists should resist the temptation to lecture businesses on the skills they require and trust industry, and the nation’s teenagers, to make rational economic decisions for themselves." ...

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Comment & analysis

Editorial comment

MONOLINGUAL U.K.

Financial Times (London)
August 24, 2007

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/25874364-5271-11dc-a7ab-0000779fd2ac.html

Given the chance, many teenagers in England would prefer not to learn a foreign language. For the past few years -- ever since the government decided to make the subjects voluntary for 14-year-olds -- young people have been running for the door marked *sortie*.

This week’s results of the GCSE exams for 16-year-olds showed that the languages of two of the U.K.’s most important neighbors are in free fall in schools. French is down 37 per cent since 2001 to 216,718, German is down 40 per cent to 81,061 over the same period.

The education establishment thinks the unwillingness of young people to learn languages voluntarily has nothing to do with boring lessons or teachers who singularly fail to enthuse their pupils about the cultures of the countries whose language they are studying.

No, business is to blame, the country’s exam chiefs and headmasters chorus, because companies are not “signalling” that they value language skills by making them a requirement for jobs, or paying a premium to those who have them.

The problem here is that the educationalists have started to believe their own propaganda about their importance in underpinning the future economic prosperity of the country. Barely a week goes by without someone claiming that education and training are the most important weapons in the U.K.’s arsenal if it is to withstand growing competition from the rest of the world. Despite the dominance of English as the world’s lingua franca, it is claimed that workers must speak foreign languages if British companies are to succeed.

Yet business itself does not fully share this view. A survey of leading companies last year by the Association of Graduate Recruiters found the law firms, banks, and consumer goods groups involved were more interested in graduates able to work as a team and solve problems. Of the 19 skills surveyed, competence in a foreign tongue was the only one employers deemed unimportant.

Business knows that if it needs people fluent in both English and Mandarin it will find no shortage in China. And U.K. companies need only look to London to find a huge reserve of native French speakers.

The CBI, the employers’ body, explained on Friday that for many companies language skills are “nice to have,” not “must haves.” They would rather schools focus on eradicating the problem of young people lacking basic skills, such as numeracy and literacy.

None of which is to say that young people should not be encouraged to take up languages for their own sake. The government’s strategy of enthusing children long before they get to the age of 14 is to be welcomed. But educationalists should resist the temptation to lecture businesses on the skills they require and trust industry, and the nation’s teenagers, to make rational economic decisions for themselves.