Lesser-Taught Languages

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:35 pm on 24th March 2015.

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Photo of Nick de Bois Nick de Bois Conservative, Enfield North 6:35 pm, 24th March 2015

I well take my hon. Friend’s point. I am blessed with a French name, but from the presumption that I speak French I recognise the constant disappointment of French-speaking people when I am limited to saying, “I am sorry, but I do not speak very good French”—in French, at least! My hon. Friend is right that the whole tone, mood and understanding can change when we nuance business relationships by using the language of the people we hope to do good business with.

What I said about Poland, I have already said about Turkey, and it is true of Bangladesh—a growing economy in the world, with unique and historic ties. It is set to be a growing economic partner to the UK, but that could be threatened by the decision to close the door on opportunity by not teaching Bengali, which is the 10th most spoken language in the world. That is a pretty big door of opportunity to close. I think that, in the mid to long term, these very same people can be at the forefront of the strengthening of links with their relatives of generations ago, back at home. I think that that can be part of a wider picture, and that what is becoming an increasingly smaller world can be a world in which we send our ambassadors from the United Kingdom, whose origins lie in the diaspora, to be our number one representatives abroad.

Let me, at this point, pay tribute to Londra Gazete, a north London Turkish newspaper that has championed this issue—so much so that, in less than a week, more than 1,500 people had signed up to argue the case for it. It is not as if people are doing nothing now. The diasporas are certainly not sitting around doing nothing; they have their supplementary schools, and they follow the true Conservative principles of personal and family responsibility. Many people from different communities have set up such schools to help second and third-generation people who were born and raised in Britain to rediscover their language of origin. That is what is happening in the Turkish supplementary schools in Enfield. By keeping Turkish as a modern language, we formalise the achievement of pupils in those schools. It is a recorded academic achievement that can take them on to university, and, as I have said, they can become ambassadors and exporters for Britain.

Teaching in the supplementary schools is not a substitute for modern languages GCSE or A-level courses. I do not want our exam bodies to limit the ambition of any diaspora second or third generation. However, as I said at the beginning, this is not just about diasporas. We should not be limiting the ambitions of all Britons who are willing to learn important languages of the future. What may be a lesser modern language now will certainly not be a lesser modern language in the future.

I want to know whether the Minister will meet exam board decision makers—not least those on the OCR—as a matter of urgency, to raise this matter and convey the concerns that have been expressed in the House and in the modern languages community. I should be grateful if he threw his full weight and authority behind repeating the arguments that have been presented here tonight.