Learn 1,000 words in a new language urges campaign

Chinese dictionary Britain is losing out on international trade because of poor language skills, say campaigners

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Everyone in the UK should learn at least 1,000 words of another language, urges a new campaign.

The 1,000 Words Campaign stems from concerns that the country is losing out on international trade and jobs because of poor language skills.

It aims to confront the view that only the brightest can learn a language.

"For too long people from the UK have suffered from a reputation that we are lazy linguists" said supporter Vicky Gough of the British Council.

"Speaking another language is crucial to understanding another culture", said Ms Gough.

Multilingual world

"So let's overturn our poor record in language learning and show that we are ready to engage with a multilingual world," she urged.

The group say a vocabulary of 1,000 words would allow a speaker to hold a simple conversation.

The challenge is part of Speak to the Future, a wider campaign backed by organisations including the British Council, the CBI, the British Academy and a range of embassies and language teaching bodies.

This year's A-level results showed a continued fall in those taking French and German, down by 10% and 11% respectively - though Spanish bucked the trend with a 4% rise in entries.

By contrast entries at GCSE for French, German and Spanish were up 16.9% on last year, reversing a long-term downward trend.

Start Quote

We are not expecting instant fluency. Yet if everyone were capable of at least 1,000 words in a new language, social attitudes and economic prospects would be significantly enhanced ”

End Quote Bernadette Holmes Speak to the Future

This has been put down to the introduction of the EBacc, a league table measure of pupils who achieve GCSE grades A* to C in maths, English, two sciences, a foreign language and history or geography.

However Teresa Tinsley of Speak to the Future told BBC News that because the EBacc is for pupils who achieve good grades, there is evidence that some schools are focusing their language teaching on more able students, whereas businesses need people with language skills at all levels of the workforce.

"Top managers often have language skills but in fact staff whose jobs involve chasing invoices or buying stock abroad also need to speak another language", said Ms Tinsley.

"A worrying divide is opening up".

Campaign director Bernadette Holmes said: "The idea that everyone can learn the basics of another language is both realistic and attainable.

"We are not expecting instant fluency. Yet if everyone were capable of at least 1,000 words in a new language, social attitudes and economic prospects would be significantly enhanced - young people would be better prepared for the challenges of globalisation and our cultural and intellectual levels would be raised.

"I urge everyone in a position of influence to join the campaign and help us achieve this aim."

Speak to the Future is funded by the British Academy and the university-based programme Routes into Languages.

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