As an American once said”If the English language was good enough for Jesus Christ …” – the House of Lords debates modern language skills

Today is  a general debate day in the House of Lords and Baroness Coussins has put down a motion calling attention to the contribution of modern language skills to the United Kingdom economy.  Often such debates produce a high quality of speeches and many valuable ideas.  Today’s debate is no exception.  The mover’s speech was followed by a speech from the Liberal Democrat front-bench, given by Lord Watson of Richmond, who is also Chairman Emeritus of the English Speakers Union and who quoted the American Senator on the subject of the language of Jesus Christ.  Their two speeches are quoted below:

“Baroness Coussins: My Lords, I am pleased to have the opportunity to debate this topic today and look forward to hearing from all noble Lords who will be speaking—and, of course, to the Minister’s response. It is most fitting that we shall be hearing from possibly the only bilingual government Minister, although I was relieved to discover when I checked the Companion that he will be obliged to use his English rather than his Welsh.

I am proud to be a modern languages graduate myself and I declare an interest as the Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Modern Languages. The group is supported by CILT, the National Centre for Languages. CILT and others have provided me with a great deal of information for which I am most grateful. I also pay tribute to the work done over many years by the late and much-missed Lord Dearing.

Professor Michael Worton’s review of modern language provision in English universities was published last month. He came to the stark conclusion that unless the decline in modern language learning is reversed, anglophone Britons will become one of the most monolingual peoples in the world, with severe consequences for our economy, for business competitiveness, for international reputation and mobility and for community cohesion at home.

English is one of the great world languages, and we benefit enormously from the desire and willingness to learn it on the part of so many other people—as do they—but its prevalence should not be overestimated. Only 6 per cent of the global population are native English speakers and 75 per cent speak no English at all. One telling indicator of the relative influence of English is its declining share of internet traffic. English material on the web has fallen from 51 per cent in 2000 to only 29 per cent in 2009. Over the same period, the amount of material in Chinese rose from only 5 per cent to 20 per cent.

There is much evidence that the operational language needs of employers are not being met and that this is damaging both to competitiveness and to the employability of our young people in particular. Research by the Association of British Chambers of Commerce showed that 80 per cent of English exporters were unable to conduct business in a foreign language and that 77 per cent of them reckoned they had missed or lost business because of it. By contrast, exporters who proactively use language skills, and the cultural knowledge that goes with them, achieve on average 45 per cent more sales. Research by Cardiff University’s business school suggests that the UK economy could be missing out on contracts worth up to £21 billion a year because of the lack of language skills in the workforce.

CBI surveys have highlighted the frustration of UK employers. Sixty per cent are dissatisfied with the foreign language skills of school leavers, and I should perhaps say at this point that there is plenty of evidence to show that learning a foreign language greatly reinforces literacy in English too. Over a third of UK businesses want people specifically for their language skills, but increasingly are forced to recruit overseas to meet their needs. Seventy-two per cent of UK international trade is with non-English-speaking countries, but only one in 10 of us can speak a foreign language and only 30 per cent of us say we can even understand a conversation in another language. Three times more French, German and Spanish students go on Erasmus-funded placements abroad as part of their degree than British students, giving themselves a competitive advantage in a global labour market. I hope the Minister will undertake to remind universities to inform all students, not just the linguists, how they may benefit from the Erasmus scheme.

The Foreign Office has reported complaints from some companies bringing inward investment to the UK that they have to source qualified engineers from their home markets because UK engineers do not have the relevant language skills, and a good grasp of the parent company’s home language is an important skill they expect from people in technical or management jobs.

French and German are top of the list of languages that employers want but, as new markets open up in the Far East, Central Asia and Latin America, significant numbers also want Mandarin or Cantonese, Spanish, Russian and Arabic. Most employers do not require complete fluency. They want conversational ability, which will give a good impression, help to build relationships and make new contacts. Basic language competence is important for retailers, secretaries, receptionists, marketers, transport and healthcare workers and many others. Between now and 2012, when we host the Olympics, we need to be sure we can provide a multilingual service in all these areas, as well as finding 300 specialist translators and interpreters. Will the Minister give an assurance that the Government will encourage businesses to invest in language training for 2012 and beyond?

The supply of interpreters and translators brings me to another aspect of this debate that I want to raise. There is a chronic shortage of English mother-tongue interpreters and translators at the United Nations and at the European Commission and Parliament. In Brussels, meetings are having to be cancelled because no English interpretation is available. Since the last round of enlargement, demand for native English speakers has increased substantially, but 20 per cent of the Commission’s English translators will retire in the next five years and recruitment is slow. In 2007, 70 more were needed but it got only 24. The picture is no better for interpreters, of whom a further 200 to 300 will be needed over the next decade. This crisis must be addressed to prevent further negative impact on the EU’s work and before the reputation of the UK in supporting international institutions is undermined.

However, a crisis always brings an opportunity, part of which is the language industry. This August, the first ever study of the size of the language industry in the EU was published. It covers not only interpreting and translating but language teaching, language tools, subtitling and dubbing, web localisation and so on. Many other sectors, as we know, are struggling, but the language industry is in robust health, with an estimated value of €8.4 billion in 2008, which is on target to double to €16.5 billion in 2015. The report makes recommendations to help businesses to seize the opportunities to benefit from multilingual competence. SMEs, for example, are advised against assuming that localising a website into the language of a target country is sufficient to generate sales, and member states are urged to introduce compatible statistical measures to help foreign language planning.

I understand that there will, for the first time, be a question on language in the 2011 Census. Will the Minister say what that question will be and how it is expected that the information will be put to good use? Will he also confirm that his department is familiar with this study and will do its utmost to ensure that British businesses and UK citizens are encouraged and enabled to benefit from their fair share of the opportunities and prosperity offered by the language industry?

There is also the important domestic issue of interpreting. Many people are being prevented from working at a level that is commensurate with their skills, and many others are being deprived of the basic human right of knowing what is happening to them when they are at their most vulnerable: in hospital, in court or in a police station. This is because the Diploma in Public Service Interpreting—the DPSI—is in jeopardy. There are about 1,000 candidates a year, and demand has never been higher. Around 50 different languages, combined with English, were on offer in 2009, ranging from the traditional languages of western Europe to the languages of the enlarged EU, such as Estonian, Lithuanian and Polish; the languages of the Indian sub-continent; and those of countries that are or have been in conflict, such as Kurdish, Serbian, Pashto and Somali.

However, the courses that teach the diploma are threatened by a lack of funding. The course has been taught in the FE sector with funding allocated by the Learning and Skills Council, but the current priorities of the LSC are for education and training at basic and lower levels. The DPSI is rated as level 6, which is equivalent to an honours degree, and so is losing out. The consequences of this will be insufficient affordable courses and fewer fully qualified public service interpreters against what is already acknowledged as a national shortage. Will the Minister undertake to look again at this and see what can be done about adjusting the funding criteria of the LSC to prevent something from happening that is so much at odds with the Government’s policies on community cohesion and social mobility?

If languages are part of the solution to economic recession, at least a little green shoot is visible in primary schools. Ninety-two per cent now offer some language teaching, and it will be compulsory from 2011, but we really cannot just wait for today’s seven year-olds to come through the system. The Government and the universities must respond positively and quickly to the recommendations of the Worton review. A third of modern language departments have closed in the past seven years, and according to Professor Worton there is a strong sense in the universities that the importance and value of languages are not properly understood either by government or by potential students.

Professor Worton calls on the Government to up the ante on expectations for secondary schools. I hope that the Minister will agree to take this up with his DCSF colleagues, in particular the need to upgrade to a mandatory target the current very vague hope that 50 to 90 per cent of students should take a language until they are 16. We know that this is completely ignored by the vast majority of state schools, which do their pupils a great disservice by excluding them from one of the skills that would maximise their employability.

The principal recommendation for the Government in the Worton review, however, is to upgrade their own messages about the importance of languages and to work with others across all sectors to communicate them. I warmly welcome the announcement that the Minister of State, David Lammy MP, will chair the new forum, in which government, HEFCE, the universities, CILT, schools and employers will all work together on this, but could the Government please be more consistent and remember languages all the time? It is quite astonishing and extremely disappointing that the new national strategy, Skills for Growth, published only two weeks ago, does not contain one single mention of language skills. I hope that I have given enough examples today to convince the Minister that a strategy that says its objectives are economic growth and individual prosperity is seriously incomplete without language skills being integrated into it, and I ask the noble Lord whether he will take urgent action to amend it.

Languages are often forgotten when the so-called strategically important and vulnerable subjects are discussed. Science, technology, engineering and maths always get top billing and I do not seek for one moment to detract from their importance, only to achieve a higher profile alongside them for languages, which have been equally designated within the SIV definition.

Another important message that teenagers, teachers, parents and careers advisers need to hear is the finding of a survey of earnings three and a half years after graduation, which showed that modern linguists earn more than graduates from any other discipline except medics, architects and pharmacologists.

The last message from the Worton review that I want to flag up, and which I would be reassured to know the Minister was prepared to discuss with the universities, is the way in which admissions policies can influence the take-up of languages. I very much regret that my own university, Cambridge, recently abandoned the requirement for all students to have a language qualification as a condition of entry. This was motivated by the desire to widen access, but how much better would it have been to adopt the model agreed by University College, London, which has introduced a language requirement, irrespective of degree subject, with the proviso that students who cannot comply, possibly because their school did not provide or encourage it, must agree instead to undertake a language course during their first year at university. This seems a much more constructive way of underpinning the importance of languages without risking elitism, and it should be applauded and copied.

I believe that every young person in the 21st century will need a measure of modern language competence, whether specialist and learned or basic and conversational, every bit as much as they will need IT skills, English and maths. You could call it a utilitarian asset but it is much more than that. It is also the key to intercultural understanding, to the fun of participation, to the pleasure of literary discovery and the gateway to a more civilised co-existence with other people. I beg to move.

Lord Watson of Richmond: My Lords, I begin by thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, for her most excellent and comprehensive speech and, in particular, I second her question about why language skills were omitted from the Skills for Growth strategy.

I declare two interests which may be relevant to this debate. First, I am chairman emeritus of the International Council of the English Speaking Union, and I wish to say something about the role of the English language. Secondly, I am president of the British-German Association, and I wish to refer to German language learning in British state sector schools.

The only area where I may have a slight nuance of difference with the noble Baroness concerns what is happening to the growth of English at present. It is worth reminding ourselves in this debate of the unique position of English as a global language, because it has great relevance to the British economy. The truth is that the four languages in the world spoken by the greatest number of people are, as one might expect, Chinese, Hindi, Arabic and English, but of course English is there for a different reason from the others. It is there because of the number of people who are not native English speakers using the language. The number is extraordinary and continues to grow because English has a huge momentum of expansion. To give an example, over 200 million people in China are learning English. Indeed, it is not really possible for anyone to enter a university in China without a foreign language qualification, and over 98 per cent choose English as the language they should learn. That is an enormous driver of English and therefore extremely important.

The international expansion of English began 400 years ago with the first permanent settlement in Jamestown. At the time roughly 3 million people were using the English language globally, mainly in the British Isles and the West Indies, and we are now reaching a figure of something like 2 billion English language users worldwide, with the figure still increasing. It is worth remembering that.

Should we do anything other than rejoice at this phenomenon? Rejoice we should, because if English was not in this position, economically we would be far weaker than we actually are. However, there is a reason for having some reservations and doubts about this. A problem is that the dominance of the English language encourages us to commit an own goal because it encourages us not to bother with other languages. The following story is no doubt apocryphal, but I enjoy it. In the 1950s, a US senator testifying on the Hill about the inadequacy of foreign language learning in American schools was becoming increasingly irritated by his cross-examination. In the end he banged the desk and said, “Gentlemen, if English was good enough for Jesus Christ, it’s good enough for us”. We must not fall for that sort of folly.

The failure to get to grips with foreign languages has many consequences, and in introducing the debate the noble Baroness focused quite rightly under its terms on some of the economic consequences, but it is also worth referring, as indeed she did briefly, to the cultural impact. I think it was Goethe who said that you cannot possibly understand your own language unless you can speak someone else’s. That remains a profound truth, and the enrichment at the cultural, intellectual and even spiritual levels of being fluent in another or several languages other than English is very great. But, as the noble Baroness pointed out, there is increasing measurement of the economic cost of the relative inadequacy of foreign language learning in Britain. While I cannot add any data, I want to cite one or two examples.

It is particularly dangerous, when travelling in countries within continental Europe where English is highly prevalent—for example, Germany—to assume that because people are speaking to you in English, that that is their preference and that they are saying the same things as they would be saying to you if they could speak in German. I had a good example of that some years ago with the Siemens company when attending a major company seminar in Berlin. The whole seminar was conducted in English. But when I came out during the coffee breaks, everything was happening in German, and I was able to listen to what the Germans were actually saying about the session from which they had just come—which had been held formally in English, even down to the PowerPoint illustrations. Their take on the session was quite different, and that was because of the difference in the language.

I have mentioned that the British-German Association is involved with German language learning in schools. We have a scheme called Youthbridge which is now active in over 50 schools in England. I should like the Minister to note, because it might be of some practical help, that we have found that by far the most important single initiative in increasing the enjoyment of another language in those schools—in this case German—has been the purchase we carried out of Astra satellite dishes so that the children can get German television. That has shown those children that there is a huge society not many miles away from them which, while indeed a different language is spoken, shares with them a great wealth of experience, variety and lifestyle. That has made the language real in a way that teachers told us would be difficult otherwise to put across.

It is also interesting that Youthbridge receives no government funding; it is funded entirely by British and German companies, who clearly understand its importance. It is against that background that the decision in 2004, which we debated in this House—I remember expressing dismay at the time—to suspend compulsory foreign language learning after the age of 14 for GCSE was quite clearly a mistake. What has happened since bears that out. The number studying French in British state schools has fallen by more than 30 per cent since 2004. We are now in the ludicrous situation that of the number of children learning foreign languages, only one in 11 is learning German, for example, and one in nine is learning French. That is not good enough. Given the huge economic importance to us of both the German and French markets, that is an own goal that we cannot tolerate.

On the role of English in the European Union, a recent survey showed that 86 per cent of all officials who work for all the institutions in the European Union have English as their preferred second language. It is interesting to me, as an enthusiast of the European Union, that underlying Euroscepticism is a strange combination of insularity and insecurity—and one of the reasons for the insecurity is a feeling that they are not talking our language. However, the truth is that they are talking our language overwhelmingly, certainly within the new member states. So, in the economic and political context, English has a strong position. Of course, the relationship changes if you also are offering the other person’s language.

We should rejoice in the unique position of English but seek the competitive advantage of, in addition, having other languages. If we cannot achieve both, we seriously underplay our own strengths and limit our opportunities. In replying to the debate, I hope the Minister will make clear to the House what the plans are for foreign language learning for over-14s and whether the 2004 decision can be decisively reversed.”

I have to admit that I am not a natural linguist – something that I regret.  I passed an O-level in French, but that did not give me much of a capacity to converse easily or freely in the language.  However, it is clear that in so many contexts the UK’s position would be enhanced if more UK nationals were fluent in other languages.

Fifteen years ago, when my oldest son was at a North London comprehensive, the school concerned offered a GCSE course in geography.  Nothing exceptional in that, except that the exam was conducted in Spanish, so that candidates had to demonstrate both a GCSE knowledge of geography but also of Spanish.  It was an excellent way of encouraging the learning of modern languages (I am not sure that it encouraged geography, as the school did not offer a GCSE course in geography in the English language as an alternative).  At that time, most schools required at least one modern language to be taken to GCSE level and many universities required it.  Listening to the debate, I was convinced that we should go back to those days.

In his reply, Lord Mervyn Davies, on behalf of the Government, stressed the progress that has been made with 92% of primary schools now offering some modern language teaching and the Government’s plans to strengthen the modern language component of the curriculum in secondary schools.  His full reply was as follows:

The Minister for Trade and Investment (Lord Davies of Abersoch): My Lords, I start by declaring an interest. I did not speak English until I was about seven years of age, so it is very much my second language. I also declare that I am chair of the council of the University of Wales at Bangor.

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, for providing an excellent opening to the debate and I thank all noble Lords for the huge range of opinions that they have expressed on this issue.

Before I joined the Government, I worked in a very diverse corporation. It had 75,000 people but only 1,300 were British and I saw the value of understanding other people’s cultures, faiths and attitudes. Working in Kuala Lumpur, I was struck, in particular, by the fact that the average number of languages spoken by members of staff was five. That is where the competition is, and the competition is intense.

The UK currently has a huge diversity of languages and cultures. It attracts 340,000 international students from more than 200 countries. Contrary to opinion, the World Bank ranks the UK first in Europe and in the top five globally for ease of doing business. We have been the fourth largest recipient of foreign direct investment flows, and the stock of inward foreign direct investment as a proportion of GDP is the highest of any G7 nation. Therefore, we have a huge range of international companies investing in the UK and they bring with them an enormous number of people and staff, who generally speak more than one language.

English on its own is not enough for us to stay competitive. It may well be the global language or one of the global languages but, as the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, said, 75 per cent of the world’s population does not speak English and it is the first language of only 6 per cent. English comes a close third to Spanish, which has 330 million speakers, and long behind Mandarin, which has approaching 1 billion speakers. However, the world is changing. As has been said, English used to account for more than half of internet traffic; now it accounts for only 29 per cent.

The world is interconnected: barriers to trade are coming down and the movement of people is facilitated by cheap air travel. The UK is very much part of a global economy and we therefore need to raise our game to compete successfully. We are going to have to adapt to the skills that are required to compete internationally, but we are also going to have to adapt to the changing trade corridors around the world, which means new language skills. Perhaps I may pause here and say that I agree with my noble friend Lord Harrison that we should not scorn the Welsh.

This morning I was speaking at ACAS. There were about 75 heads of human resources present from government and corporates, virtually all of whom—74 out of the 75—said that modern language skills are hugely important if we are to stay competitive.

Languages increase cultural awareness. As has been said, with the emergence of the economies in Latin America and Asia, the ability of British people to speak Mandarin and Spanish will become increasingly important. My noble friend Lord Woolmer of Leeds highlighted how important that will become. However, it is also important to reflect on what the CBI has said—that 74 per cent of employers are looking for conversational and related intercultural competences rather than language fluency. We should never forget that 50 per cent of our exports in the UK are to Europe, so European languages are important, too. Our key role in Brussels has also been mentioned.

Although French and German still top the list, a significant proportion of companies require speakers in Mandarin, Cantonese, Spanish and Russian. Therefore, the Government are revitalising the key stage 3 curriculum and are no longer restricting schools to teaching the working languages of the EU first, providing secondary schools with greater flexibility to teach world languages. By March 2010, materials for key stage 3 students will be available in French, German, Spanish and Mandarin Chinese. Already one in seven secondary schools teaches Mandarin, and Spanish is the second most taught language after French.

I was struck by a recent report from researchers at University College London, who studied the brains of bilingual people. They found that learning other languages develops the area of the brain that processes information—the grey matter. So, much as exercise builds and tones muscles, the good news is that languages build brain power. However, the bad news is that you need to start young. The same research found that older learners will not be as fluent as those who learn earlier in life.

That finding very much supports the Government’s approach of getting children enthused about language at an early age. There is no neglect on this issue in government. It is absolutely critical that we push for early learning, as it is very important to learn languages early in life. We are making languages a statutory part of the national curriculum in primary schools from September 2011. Over 92 per cent of primary schools already teach languages, which is up from 44 per cent in 2003. We have trained more than 4,500 primary teachers with a languages specialism and we are giving £32.5 million in funding to local authorities to support the delivery of primary languages.

It was mentioned that languages are important for international business. However, they are also important for the Diplomatic Service. Since I have been in government, I have visited 29 countries and I am off to Saudi Arabia on Sunday. I am struck by how important a role our multilingual diplomatic staff play in supporting not just the Foreign Office but business generally. It is absolutely critical that they keep that competitive edge. The FCO invests heavily in language training for staff going overseas, particularly for the more difficult languages. There is also a standing conference for civil servants in particular departments—for example, the Ministry of Defence—and continuous attention is given to this in government. It is important that that stays.

Why do more women than men learn languages? It is true that we need to get more people learning languages, but we have to get a wider group of people learning them. We need to change society’s attitude towards learning languages. Languages are more popular with girls and women. In higher education, roughly two-thirds of language students are women. We need to tackle this by making languages more appealing to boys. Similarly, languages are seen as slightly elitist and are associated with independent schools, Russell Group institutions and higher socio-economic groups, which are disproportionately represented when it comes to language learning. We want children and young people from all backgrounds to be learning languages, so language learning needs to become more diverse. The Government are acting to make that so. We are seeking to address the gender imbalance through making course content more flexible in order to engage boys more effectively, developing communications materials aimed at boys and creating new online resources for them.

Although an impressive 92 per cent of primary schools already offer languages, from September 2011 all schools will be obliged to provide language learning as part of the national curriculum. Languages are already compulsory for children aged 11 to 14 and there we are revitalising the curriculum to make it more engaging.

As the Minister for Trade, I have to say that Britain has many strengths. Britain is a country that is highly creative and innovative, strong in science and research, inquiring and adventurous, yet when it comes to foreign languages we seem to have a bit of a mental block. Why do we not have the same success? It cannot be for any innate lack of capability.

The Government recognise the value of languages and are doing a huge amount to support language learning. We have a national languages strategy, which is about increasing the number of people learning languages from primary through to postgraduate level, and from 2011 we are introducing a languages and international communications diploma. We are also developing a communications campaign aimed at young people to point out what a difference language can make to their future and their lives. We have classified languages as strategically important in terms of higher education and we are investing in them through the Routes into Languages programme.

Since I became involved in this, I have been genuinely disappointed at the take-up of ERASMUS. When you look at the number of students going out internationally, you see that we have around 5.6 per cent of the market share, while around a 10 per cent share of the students are coming into the UK—we have around 10,000 students going out internationally and 20,000 coming in. We need to fix that. It is something that I need to do with the vice-chancellors. We also need to look into the issue of European interpreters. I will take that away.

The demand for degrees in some languages is growing, even if overall numbers are down. Language degrees in England fell from 3.2 per cent in 2003 to 2.7 per cent in 2008, but the numbers enrolled on joint language degree courses were up 5 per cent. What is also interesting is that the numbers for world languages have risen. Spanish degrees have risen by 13 per cent, Chinese by 36 per cent and Japanese by 43 per cent. Many students are opting to learn languages alongside their other specialisations. Some 30,000 students are taking a language module as part of their degree and more than 25,000 are doing language courses in their spare time.

We need to inspire young people to study languages in higher education. The £8 million Routes into Languages programme, funded by the DCSF and HEFCE, has created a consortium of schools, colleges and universities to work together in order to stimulate demand for language learning in secondary and higher education. Some 67 universities and more than 1,200 schools are involved, with over 27,000 school pupils taking part in activities. UCL’s policy was also mentioned. It is obviously for each university to decide on its admission policy, but what I would say is that UCL is showing strong support for language learning and I commend it for that.

Both today and on other occasions there has been criticism that languages are not compulsory at key stage 4. We do not believe that compulsion is the right approach. As Lord Dearing noted in his 2007 review of languages, a one-size-fits-all approach is not right for all pupils, and forcing 14 to 16 year-olds to study languages will not in itself raise standards or motivate pupils. We are considering a range of options for boosting take-up at key stage 4, including making the benchmark mandatory. It is interesting that Lord Dearing thought that the priority was to make language learning more exciting. I think that the decision in 2004 was made really to increase flexibility in the curriculum for vocational opportunities. We are already taking action to incentivise learning at key stage 4, such as the revised key stage 3 curriculum, the online Open School for Languages and, as I said, our communications campaign.

I was struck by the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Watson of Richmond, on Youthbridge, which I will take away, and I agree to meet with the organisation. But it is not all down to the Government. The corporate sector needs to step up to provide more language learning for its employees. It makes good business sense and will make firms more competitive. My noble friend Lord Harrison mentioned that some companies admit that they are losing out. A Europe-wide study of 195 SMEs found that 115 of them had lost a contract through lack of language skills, with an average loss of business over a three-year period of £325,000. We need to join the chambers of commerce, the CBI and trade associations, together with some of the major corporations, to put in place a significant push and drive on this. As the Minister, I will take that forward and look at the scale of the language sector and its importance to British industry, and we will work with UKTI on the issue. Coupled with that, mention has been made in the debate of scholarships, and I will also take that away as an issue.

Language increases cultural awareness. One of the great benefits of language learning is the insight that it gives to other cultures, which can be vital when doing business overseas. Employers want people who can multitask and who are multiskilled. They want people who are numerate and literate, have IT skills, can work well in a team and are results-focused. Also, research shows that learning a foreign language early aids literacy and the learning of English. Employers want people who have foreign language skills and an international mindset. The great thing about studying languages is that it helps to build many of these skills.

In the Government, we realise the huge importance of the subject. We need partnership with universities, with business and with a variety of associations and we need to give a prod to the corporate sector. But the key is to get youngsters excited about language and to start them on the journey early. We have a series of actions in place, one of which is a response to the Worton report. David Lammy has said that he is willing to chair a new forum consisting of universities, schools and employers to develop a clearer communications strategy on languages.

Finally, on Skills for Growth, the whole document is built to be demand-led. Only yesterday I chaired a meeting with 16 of the major corporations in the UK at which we were discussing what skills they require to be competitive. It was very clear that language learning is something that they need and therefore we need to respond to. I thank all noble Lords.”

6 thoughts on “As an American once said”If the English language was good enough for Jesus Christ …” – the House of Lords debates modern language skills”

  1. time also that those who come here to learn english and behave themselves as most do were welcomed more fulsomely, rather than treated with racism/xenophobia.

    They may become our ambassadors or our enemies.

  2. Thank you for publishing all this. If we accept that anguage learning is a good thing, then we need to decide whixch language(s) to teach.

    I should like to see more use made of Esperanto in our education system, both because of its own intrinsic value and as an introduction to language learning.

  3. Concerning the comment about Esperanto.

    Although Esperanto is a living language, it helps language learning as well.

    Five British schools have introduced Esperanto in order to test its propaedeutic values. The pilot project is being monitored by the University of Manchester and the initial encouraging results can be seen at,%20S2L%20Phase%201.pdf

    Your readers might also like to see

  4. An A Level in a foreign language shows semi-competence, an O level complete incompetenc. How Eurocentric is language teaching in the U.K? “Very”. As to interpreters, £200 an hour f reqd by DSS, that is three peoples claims for a week.

  5. My “O” level french shows sufficient willingness that I am a little more welcomed in Cherbourg than the average punter I have found.

    A willing smile helps too . . .

    In these days of niche policy adoption, with the BNp taking on the world re climate change, and the Lib Dems havering over wether to adopt “free Drugs for All the Shirkers,” who might go for Esperanto 4 the masses?

    UKIP, in spite?

  6. How odd is it that educated, super intelligent people in their sphere of interests can be so close-minded in other aspects ?

    Is it not obvious that an easy to learn, but precise, common SECOND language taught in every school, or per the Net, in the wide world would soon enable universal communication, while preserving every native tongue and dialect, this being a human right for all cultures to endure ?

    Whose interest is served by spreading the English language ? Not the language itself, as it is disintegrating into englishes…

    David Rothkopf, “In Praise of Cultural Imperialism?” Foreign Policy, Number 107, Summer 1997, pp. 38-53
    DAVID ROTHKOPF is managing director of Kissinger Associates QUOTE :


    It is in the general interest of the United States to encourage the development of a world in which the fault lines separating nations are bridged by shared interests.

    And it is in the economic and political interests of the United States to ensure that if the world is moving toward a common language, it be English; that if the world is moving toward common telecommunications, safety, and quality standards, they be American; that if the world is becoming linked by television, radio, and music, the programming be American; and that if common values are being developed, they be values with which Americans are comfortable.

    Americans should not deny the fact that of all the nations in the history of the world, theirs is the most just, the most tolerant, the most willing to constantly reassess and improve itself, and the best model for the future. End of quote.
    In 2011 can such a glorious assessment of the USA still be justified ?

    Dans son rapport de 1987/88, le directeur du British Council écrit « Le véritable or noir de la Grande-Bretagne n’est pas le pétrole de la Mer du Nord mais la langue anglaise . Le défi que nous affrontons est de l’exploiter à fond. » end of quote. In view of the above talks, can this last paragraph still be justified ?

    When 8 years old, suddenly surrounded by a foreign speaking occupying army, i felt bewildered and frustrated, i wanted to understand. Now 80, i find the Net is offering me What a wonderful site, enabling one to choose to study many tongues, among them a marvelous “bridge” . Vive Lernu, Vive the Net !

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