Foreign languages: Welsh Tories urge lessons from age 7
- 9 August 2012
- From the section Wales
A campaign for primary school pupils to start learning a foreign language from the age of seven has been launched by the Welsh Conservatives.
Currently it is compulsory in Wales for pupils to begin studying a language at 11 but they can stop at the age of 14.
The number of GCSE entries for French has halved since 1999, while entries for German have dropped by 60%.
The Welsh government said it is considering a "focused review" of the curriculum.
The teaching of foreign languages would be part of that, a spokesperson said.
Tory education spokesperson Angela Burns said: "We want to inspire a love of languages."
The Conservatives have announced a consultation to support their campaign to create a "trilingual" nation, citing evidence to suggest that foreign language skills help improve literacy in English and Welsh.
The party is also consulting on the languages which could be offered in addition to the most popular options of French, German and Spanish.
"Welsh school leavers are regrettably trailing their European counterparts in foreign language skills and the gap is growing," said Ms Burns.
"In an increasingly competitive economy, we need to ensure that young people are equipped with the skills they need to pursue a successful career and to help make Wales a more prosperous nation.
"Considerable evidence shows that the younger a child is when they are exposed to foreign languages, the greater their capacity for language learning.
"In Wales, we start teaching foreign languages at 11 - far later than many EU nations, where learning foreign languages in primary school is the norm.
Lucy Douglas, head of modern languages at Rhyl High School, Denbighshire, said they found that work-orientated National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs) proved popular with sixth-form pupils.
"We're competing against European countries and all the Spanish-speaking countries and French-speaking countries of the world," she said.
"If our pupils don't have that modern foreign language they can't compete with anyone else in the world applying for the same job."
David Jones, business development manager at Wolfestone Translation in Swansea, told BBC Radio Wales that youngsters learning a foreign language would find it a good "brain-training" exercise.
He said it would also boost their job prospects, particularly in sectors trading with the fastest-growing nations.
"Brazilian Portuguese is a rising language along with Mandarin - any child who was to become fluent in either of those languages I'm pretty sure would never be unemployed," he said.
Supporting the idea of making language lessons compulsory at the age of seven, Mr Jones added: "You can't expect a seven-year-old to make a choice based on their career prospects 15 to 20 years down the line.
"If we have children learning [foreign languages] from the age of seven we should be aware that even then we are four years behind some parts of Europe."
UK Education Secretary Michael Gove has called for foreign languages to be taught from the age of five, proposing to make it compulsory from the age of seven in England.
The House of Lords EU committee has also called for compulsory foreign language lessons in primary and secondary schools, saying the UK's attitude to languages had prevented its students from studying in Europe.
A Welsh government spokesperson said it has put in place guidance to support those schools who teach foreign languages to seven to 11-year-olds and encourages other schools, if able, to incorporate a modern foreign language (MFL) into the curriculum.
"The Welsh government is, however, currently actively considering a focused review of the curriculum, along with assessment arrangements and MFL is part of those considerations," the spokesperson added.