Modern Languages

Question Time — Scottish Executive — Education and Young People, Tourism, Culture and Sport – in the Scottish Parliament at 2:00 pm on 2nd December 2004.

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Photo of Donald Gorrie Donald Gorrie Liberal Democrat 2:00 pm, 2nd December 2004

To ask the Scottish Executive what further action it will take to make the primary and secondary school modern language programme more successful. (S2O-4318)

Photo of Peter Peacock Peter Peacock Labour

It is obviously the Liberal week for languages. Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Education is evaluating provision for modern languages in Scottish schools. Its final report is due this month. Those findings will help to inform future support for modern languages and work that is under way to revise our schools curriculum.

Photo of Donald Gorrie Donald Gorrie Liberal Democrat

The fact that two questions on languages came up together is a coincidence and not a plot. Taking up Irene Oldfather's point, how does the minister think that we can help teachers to enthuse pupils in secondary schools about modern languages? I would hate to try to teach a modern language to pupils who were dead against it for whatever mistaken reason. How can we enthuse them about the importance of learning modern languages and the pleasure to be gained from it? Our education system is notoriously at its worst in the early secondary years, so how can we grab those pupils for modern languages in that period?

Photo of Peter Peacock Peter Peacock Labour

Donald Gorrie makes an important point. The thrust of the changes to the curriculum that we announced last month is to try to ensure that young people are more engaged in learning in S1 and S2. Part of the secret of that is not to use compulsion in all subjects but to encourage and enthuse people and to give them greater choice and space than we have given them in the past to pursue the subjects that they want to pursue.

I was recently in a first-year secondary school class, where young people still have a broad experience of the curriculum and the chance not just to sample languages but to continue the work that they have done in modern languages at primary school. In that classroom, I saw the most modern technology available allowing young people to engage in the types of computer games that they would engage in anyway but in a much more constructive way than they might in their bedrooms at home. We want to see young people enjoying the learning process and that is part of the way in which we can enthuse them. That brings us back to Irene Oldfather's point about making the connection between living languages, communication and understanding other cultures. That makes all the difference.

The reason why I did not pursue languages at secondary school was because they tried to teach me French grammar from day one in a stultified, pretty awful way that switched me and many others off. That is not happening today. We are exciting young people about learning and we need to keep doing that to increase the numbers of people who are learning languages.