Children of five 'should be taught Somali in schools'
UK Daily Mail | March 13, 2007
Children as young as five should learn Polish, Afghan and even Somali under plans to shake up language learning.
A review into how the Government could reverse a sharp decline in pupils studying languages has recommended that primary schools teach languages spoken in their community.
Lord Dearing, the report's author, demanded every seven-year- old should learn a foreign language in the classroom, a measure backed yesterday by Education Secretary Alan Johnson.
And he said successful schools should introduce them at Key Stage 1 - when pupils are five.
The report was commissioned after the Government made languages optional for pupils aged 14 in 2004.
Since then, the number of children taking a language GCSE has plummeted from nearly 80 per cent to 51 per cent.
The Government was yesterday accused of undermining Lord Dearing's proposals by refusing to reverse its decision.
Mr Johnson said catching children young was the best way to nurture their interest in foreign languages.
He added: "The earlier you start learning a language the better. Making language study compulsory from seven to 14 gives pupils seven years to build up their knowledge, confidence and experience."
This would encourage them to take language GCSEs, he said.
Lord Dearing wants the Government to set a target of up to 90 per cent of pupils learning languages after the age of 14.
And he warned ministers should return to compulsory GCSE languages if the drop in the numbers studying the subject persisted.
MPs, businesses and unions criticised the decision to keep languages GCSEs optional.
Lord Dearing's report also said language GCSEs were too "stressful" compared to other subjects and it should be easier for pupils to achieve better grades.
Under proposals unveiled yesterday, schools would teach "world" languages, including Urdu and Mandarin, alongside those of major European countries.
This would improve the international job prospects of young people in a global economy.
But schools should also teach local languages spoken by immigrants from Eastern Europe, Asia and Africa.
Pointing to the success of supplementary schools run by ethnic communities in addition to mainstream school, Lord Dearing suggested teachers should offer classes in languages including Afghan, Somali, Greek, Hebrew, Turkish, Russian and Farsi.
Describing the languages spoken at home by many pupils in British schools as a "national asset", he said: "We should value community languages."
A Department for Education spokesman said individual schools would decide what language to teach.
She added: "A school in a Somali community might decide to teach Somali because there are people who speak the language and children would hear it or read in the community every day. This might encourage them to learn other languages as they get older."