Byline: GARETH EVANS
THE challenges facing modern foreign language learning in Wales are well-documented.
I should know, I've written on them often enough. But for all the hot air, we are seemingly no closer to redressing our alarming slide in language take-up.
Latest figures show there were 416 entries in A-level French, 162 in Spanish and only 123 entries in German this summer.
Comparatively, there were 3,107 pupils entered for A-level history, 1,892 sitting the religious studies qualification and 1,197 taking media or film.
Uptake was better at GCSE, by virtue of the increased options available to learners, but interest in languages was still painfully low relative to other subjects.
A report published earlier this summer by the British Council found that the number of pupils in Wales studying a foreign language to GCSE declined by 44% between 2002 and 2015.
It said entries for French were now less than half (47%) of what they were in 2002 and German entries were only about a third (36%) of those recorded in 2002.
Education watchdog Estyn ranks the "adequate" quality of teaching and dominance of core subjects at Key Stage 4 as factors contributing to the decline.
They are interesting observations, not without substance. Question is, what can be done to arrest the slide and put right what we continue to get so badly wrong? The Welsh Government's plan to improve and promote foreign languages in Wales, Global Futures, was published last year and pinpoints how ministers aim to increase GCSE and A-level uptake.
It also sets out its ambition for Wales to become a "bilingual plus one" nation, in which every learner will study English, Welsh and at least one other foreign language from Year Five onwards.
It is a very noble aim, however, with a meagre PS480,000 set aside to support Global Futures in 2015-16 (and no suggestion more money will be invested in coming years) it is hard to imagine ministers' ambitions ever becoming reality.
Speaking from personal experience, I thoroughly enjoyed learning French to A-level and, while my use of the lingo has been largely redundant since leaving school, I like to think I could pick up fairly easily where I left off.
I wouldn't say my limited proficiency in a foreign language has helped professionally, but I did gain valuable insight into another culture and the many social customs associated with life in France.
Having holidayed there frequently as a child and into my teens, I remember the food and drink being better than anything I'd ever sampled and conversing with shopkeepers was considerably easier with a basic grasp of their mother tongue.
There are many benefits associated with language learning, but I fear our downward spiral will continue unless the Welsh Government puts its money where its mouth is.
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|Publication:||Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)|
|Date:||Sep 13, 2016|
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