NI Under-Performing On Foreign Languages

Northern Ireland is under-prepared to meet its need for linguists in the future, according to a new report.

The British Council warned Northern Ireland needs to give learning foreign languages a higher priority.

It said NI was "a long way from being self-sufficient in producing linguists in languages likely to be needed" by its businesses."

In particular, the lack of Asian language speakers and speakers of a wider range of European languages was seen as worrying.

But the Council noted Northern Ireland was in line with a wider trend across the UK.

It said: "Queen's University Belfast closed its German department in 2009, reflecting the squeeze on languages in higher education which is being felt across the UK."

The British Council's Language Rich Europe report was carried out to see how different European countries approached the teaching and use of regional, minority and foreign languages.

It was found the situation regarding modern foreign languages in secondary schools in Northern Ireland has declined since languages were made optional after the first three years of secondary education.

The 2007 curriculum reform saw a 19% drop in students sitting GCSE examinations over three years with French, as the first foreign language taught, being the worst hit.

Spanish is the second most widely taught modern language and is managing to maintain numbers, but German has suffered declines.

The report did point out the effect of Northern Ireland’s history on the teaching of languages.

"From being a country of emigration and conflict in the late 20th century it has become more peaceful and more globally connected with an increase in tourism, low cost air travel and immigration," the report said.

"Its history makes it sensitive to issues of language and culture and the measures adopted so far have been inclusive. However, as the Language Rich Europe research shows, Northern Ireland has a weak profile as regards foreign language learning and now needs to give this a much higher priority at all levels in the education system."


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