The following is the insight of a 15-year-old high school student, Emma, who spent a spent week with us for work experience:
As a year 10 student who, despite having completed my Spanish GCSE a year early with an intention to go on to learn more languages to the extent of fluency, I disagree with schools making languages a compulsory subject at GCSE level. In a school where it is mandatory for students of a certain academic capability to do either Spanish or French at GCSE, I have only seen a negative response from both students and parents, claiming that it is unfair the way in which students are made to use one of their few subject options for a language they don’t even have an interest in learning, when they could put it to use with a subject they will enjoy or that will contribute to their desired career. Especially since more often than not, they don’t continue to study the language post high school, and only end up with a qualification in something they will eventually have no knowledge in.
The way in which languages are taught in schools focuses more on the aspect of making the work gradable- they teach grammar, tenses, genders and conjugations before teaching vocabulary and phrases/sentence structures, so that the students knowledge is able to be marked, even if they’re not learning the language itself. I believe this is where the largest mistake is made- schools only discourage students from wanting to learn a language, as they create this perception of right or wrong, when in reality the process of learning a language varies in difficulty and progress: Its better to be able to speak a slightly inaccurate but somewhat understandable variation of the language rather than be able to quote a few perfectly structured sentences that will most likely never be put to use. The first can be improved upon through speaking to fluent/native speakers and practise, whilst the latter only results in the feeling like your time has been wasted. If schools were to replace the pressure of gaining a qualification in a language with the promotion of learning languages in their free time or through tutors etc, I think a more successful turnout of students would choose to take/learn languages.
The promotion and encouragement of learning a language is what I consider to be more important and effective than testing- to emphasise the way in which there are really no drawbacks of learning a language. Except maybe being slightly difficult, the turnout only proves to be positive. It is respected and recognised by employers; even if the job isn’t language based, having knowledge of other languages has been proven to increase brain capacity and improve memory, reassuring the employer and company that you’d make a reliable employee. It is also appreciated when travelling abroad, and it gives you a sense of feeling at home in foreign territory, as well as giving you more options in terms of entertainment etc. The sense of pride after having achieved a conversation in a foreign language however, may be the best thing to consider.
In the future, I don’t hope to have a completely language-based career, but a career in which my knowledge of languages can be put to use. As well as this, I am determined to learn Arabic and Mandarin, due to how widely they’re spoken and the range of places you can travel with the knowledge of them. Despite their difficulty, I believe it will have been worth it in the end.