Languages can open doors to students

There has been a lot in the press recently about the place of vocational education and how it relates to academic education, writes education blogger Kit Field.

Attitudes to professions change when you pass through the Channel Tunnel to Europe

There has been a lot in the press recently about the place of vocational education and how it relates to academic education, writes education blogger Kit Field.

There is no doubt that the removal of vocational qualifications as equivalents to GCSEs will impact upon the profile of schools which have proven to be very successful, in terms of league tables.

The introduction of the new English Baccalaureate will give some schools higher prestige than others, through its focus on the "academic".

I wonder why there is such a division.

My subject, when I was a teacher was Modern Foreign Languages.

I always wondered why, when I was taught French it never seemed to relate tot real life.

After one year at University, I worked as a "courier" on a campsite.

I suddenly found myself having to support and translate for English tourists in France, who had health problems, car problems, wanted assistance in finding suitable attraction and restaurants.

I had problems, but I was able, with the aid of a dictionary to put together meaningful sentences.

These were detached from the real life I was encountering in France.

The tourist had made assumptions about how things worked in France, based upon their own experiences in England.

In this way I was no different, despite them expecting me to sort things our for them

So what had my academic education prepared me for?

I knew how to form tenses, make adjectives agree, form the subjunctive with irregular verbs – but didn’t seem to be able to put them to good use.

My education provided me with a grounding however, and I was eventually able to translate my academic learning into a vocational context.

I wonder why these were two separate phases of my life.

Once I became a French teacher, I strove to integrate the two.

We set up French cafes in school, planned a French ‘Jumble Sale’, took over a stately home and its grounds to act as French speaking guides and workers on site and worked with a transport company to produce a phrase book for English lorry drivers driving in France.

We even invented short French phrases to be placed on Love Hearts.

My pupils seemed to find this more motivating and enjoyable.

At the time, we were provided with financial support through the project ‘Technical and Vocational Educational Initiative’ this was about incorporating vocationally useful study into academic programmes.

So why now do we have to separate the two? Why can’t the academic knowledge contained in realistic application not be recognised?

In times of high youth unemployment, should we not be trying to provide young people with knowledge and also experiences upon which they could draw in work?

Having been involved in languages, I have had the opportunity to visit other countries.

Rarely do I find such a stigma attached to education elsewhere.

Certainly in Germany, engineering, for example, is a profession that is well respected and rewarded.

Education programmes for engineers are not seen to be second class programmes.

Catering courses in France – learning to be chef, is also high status, and indeed some of the best restaurants I have been to have been run by students.

Colleges in Holland have state of the art ‘garage’ facilities to provide real working experiences for pupils learning about mechanics.

I do fear that we are moving in a direction of a two tier system, that will not lead to social harmony, nor supply our job markets with young people with the skills to hit the ground running.

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Comments for: "Languages can open doors to students"

Mr. Jason Mander

Dear Kit ,

I was very interested in reading your article ( Languages can open doors to students ) . I have been studying Spanish for about 5 years through the local adult education centre and the Open University. I feel that you can spend a lot of time learning the grammar in the classroom , but then it is very difficult transferring this to real life converstions in Spanish. Learning the verb structures is all well and good but putting this into paractice is very difficult. Perhaps this is why I see many people give up learning a foreign language.


Jason Mandee