Which languages are students choosing to study? And how are they being applied to life after school? We look into language matters at Buckswood School and Ashford School.
Gilly Johnson, Deputy Principal (Academic) at Buckswood School, talks us through some of the school’s language success stories to show the doors that a second – or third! – language can open.
Our most popular languages are Mandarin, Spanish, German and French, but we also teach many ‘mother tongue’ languages for our international pupils.
Studying a language gives pupils the confidence to take their first step into another culture. Being able to communicate in a new language opens so many doors. It may give someone a lifelong love of the country and the language they’ve studied. They might choose to study in this country too. I fell in love with French at school and languages became part of my life and subsequent career. France always feels like home to me, even now.
Being able to communicate in other languages opens many doors; journalism, business and commerce, international relations, international law, politics, translation, interpreting, etc. One of our (British) ex-pupils studied French, Spanish and Serbo-Croat at Buckswood and went on to study interpreting at the University of Poitiers, in France. In his ‘year-out’ work placement at the French Embassy in Uruguay, his manager was so impressed with him that he recommended him for several jobs in business, in Uruguay, once he had finished his degree. It was here that our ex-pupil demonstrated his linguistic and cross-cultural knowledge, allowing him to complete an international project; something nobody had managed to do up to that point. At the age of 24, this young man is now an international project manager, overseeing projects in 20 countries, travelling first class everywhere he goes and earning a huge salary. In a global ecomony, languages are vital to international success.
Our ex-pupils have gone on to study the language they like best, or a combination of these. Languages are also studied alongside law, international law, politics, economics, film and media, marketing, PR, tourism, hospitality, journalism, oenology, art, architecture, international development, anthropology, geography, philosophy and, of course, teaching!
Mrs Paola Sagastuy, Head of Languages at Ashford School, explains how making the decision to study a language opens up a world of opportunities for students.
At Ashford School we strongly believe in the value of learning languages, and so we encourage all of our pupils to learn one or two languages during their stay with us. We offer Spanish, French and German from Year 7 to A-Level.
Because we care that our pupils love the languages that they are learning, and we believe in personal responsibility, pupils are offered a choice of languages from Year 7. We help them make an informed decision by offering them a rotation of each language in the first half of the year, and then ask them to choose two languages to go forward with. Pupils will learn these two languages until the end of Year 9, and when they make their language choices for GCSEs, they can continue with both languages or they can choose to focus on just one of them.
Until recently, French was the more popular language choice, however this seems to have shifted in the last few years, with Spanish having the greatest uptake. Pupils often perceive German as the more ‘difficult’ language, and as such its popularity had dwindled somewhat. We have worked hard to change this perception, as there really isn’t any language that is easier or more difficult to learn in and of itself. In fact, German can often be easier for English speakers as it shares many word roots. This has now led to German coming in second in popularity with our upcoming cohorts.
There is no denying that English has become the lingua franca for the modern world. This means that one can travel and work abroad if one can speak English. That being said, the experience of studying abroad is richer if the student has knowledge of the local language. As author Rita Mae Brown said, “Language is the road map of a culture. It tells you where its people come from and where they are going.”
Learning a language is unlike learning other subjects. It is learning a skill; and skills are transferable. The executive function is enhanced in bi-lingual people, and decision-making and concentration are demonstrably better because of the constant need to choose the language spoken and suppress the one not needed. This is applicable to all areas of life – the cognitive benefits are countless!
A-Level linguists go on to university to study a great variety of degrees. Language courses and translation and interpretation are the obvious ones, but linguists also make superb law students, because of their command of the intricacies of language; mathematicians, because logical and higher order thinking is necessary to learning foreign languages; and business and politics students, because they are good communicators. This is not a comprehensive list. People who speak more than one language have a better understanding of the world and its cultures, and therefore make excellent students and professionals.
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