Friday, 5 September 2008

Snobbery over language.

Hands up, who learnt (Or was taught, there is a distinction between the two) a language at school? French, Spanish, German? There was a school not too far from where I live that offered Japanese alongside the more 'traditional' languages. That school later gained special status as a Language School- three guesses what their specialty was?
I learnt French and Spanish for three years, then 'dropped' French and carried on with Spanish to GCSE. Some pupil's took both French and either German/Spanish at GCSE. This seems to be the general model that the majority of schools adopt.
There were pupils' in my school that also did other languages at GCSE, outside the taught curriculum. A girl in my form sat a GCSE in Mandarin, and several others took Urdu and Gujarati. Personally, I think it's brilliant. Unfortunately, my opinion doesn't appear to be the general consensus.
Languages such as Urdu, Gujarati, Mandarin and Polish are being recognised by the awarding bodies as qualifications but a hierarchy amongst teaching/learning these additional languages exists. The afore mentioned languages are considered 'community languages' not 'Modern Foreign Languages' (like French, German, Italian etc). The attached labels support the hierarchy amongst subjects in schools, a view supported by various professionals. For the most part. Subjects placed under the titled 'Community Languages', to put it bluntly, are unfortunately not seen as useful or important as 'Modern Foreign Languages'.

There are so many schools whose 'mission statement' is to celebrate diversity (This should take place in all forms of diversity; culture and language, background, gender, opinions...) This has turned into a bit of a catchphrase, along with every child matters. In practise, not much celebrating goes on. To put languages into two categories, either Modern or Community, devalues the qualifications and also the process of teaching and learning that are associated with them.
Some languages are given a high status because of the trade/economic benefits that are associated with them. The teaching of Mandarin is being developed and recognised as a result of the economic and political factors in relation to globalisation and the growing economic force of China.

Last year, part of my course was the theory behind multilingualism. Our lecturer asked how many of us considered ourselves to be multilingual. A few student's didn't consider that the languages they spoke fluently and used daily, alongside English, counted as being multilingual. Their explanation? "It's not useful" or "It doesn't matter". How sad is it that an integral part of some student's/pupil's persona's and cultures are being dismissed and placed under such a hierarchy, that even the student themselves starts to question their importance.

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