The Age Myth strikes again

English politics deserves a monarchy of misconceptions sometimes. Their “dire record on language learning” is “laid bare” for the whole world to see (as described in this article in The Independent), so journalists and politicians have sat down and taken a serious look at what could possibly have caused this bleak state.

I have previously tried my best to go myth busting on Fair Languages and on the Fluent Language blog. The equation younger learners = better language learners = not true. There are many things at play that make language teaching successful. Let's see how many factors Great Britain's ministers pay attention to:
We are addressing the chronic lack of attention paid to foreign languages in schools. It is vital young people start studying a language at an earlier age. That is why from next year we are ensuring that children learn a language from age seven.
— Spokesman for UK Dept of Education

That’s right, it's only the most popular language learning myth. If they just taught everybody foreign languages a year earlier, then we’d hit the magic age (seems they have decided that it’s seven – obviously seven), brains would click into gear and Britain’s new generation of polyglots would surely rule the world.

Image credit: striatic on Flickr

Image credit: striatic on Flickr

On Red Herrings

As a tutor who works with students from age 8 to age 60, I can see on a daily basis that the age at which someone starts learning a foreign language is not an essential factor in their ability. I teach 21 year old Chinese students, who learn German with more dedication and enthusiasm than many young kids do in our schools.

Yes, children are the future. That doesn’t mean they are the place where we adults should look for every problem to be fixed. If you want a whole generation to become impressive language learners, you have to BELIEVE in it. Changing the age, changing the language choice or making any other superficial adjustment- those are red herrings, cosmetic cover-ups invented by politicians who want to make the nation look better.

But the real noble goal should come from the inside. School children, teenagers and adult learners should love language learning because they can see what it can do for them. We need more role models who celebrate other languages, more parents encouraged to learn, more politicians. Foreign language learning is fuelled by the knowledge that there is more to the world than what we can see. It’s about the lure of another world and the belief that language is power.

Speak to the Future

The Speak to the Future campaign in the UK could be a place to look for well thought out ideas on fixing the “dire record”. They didn’t need a study to show them what was obvious: that Britain’s lawmakers need new inspiration for a fresh start in languages, and that we need to break out of believing in misconceptions.

You can also read this article on the great Fair Languages website.