The crisis in modern language teaching - Case studies


The Guardian – 13 March 2007


The crisis in modern language teaching - Case studies

Jessica Shepherd
Cambridge University


Portuguese may disappear from the first-year timetable at Cambridge from September next year. The university is considering whether the language should be taught only in the second and fourth year. The third year is spent abroad.

The university has been surprised at the anger this has provoked and has retreated somewhat. Dr Kate Pretty, pro vice-chancellor, admits Cambridge has "gone back to the drawing board as a result of the tumult". The Brazilian embassy had expressed "surprise and disappointment".

Pretty is quick to point out that the proposal was aired because of stretched teaching capacity, rather than falling student demand. "Portuguese will not be axed," she says. "We need to make our provision fit the teaching capacity." There are no changes afoot for other languages, such as Russian and Czech, she says.

Cambridge asks all its applicants to have a language to GCSE level, regardless of which degree subject they want to pursue. "We are different in this respect to many other universities," she says. "Literature is also an important component of our language degrees. Some university courses are primarily language-based, so we have a specialised interest in the sorts of students we want."

Her outlook for modern languages at universities, whether at degree level or as an extra-curricular activity, is mixed.

"I think universities are beginning to see the effects of being able to drop languages at school before GCSE. We have a very active language centre where you can study up to 150 languages at basic to advanced level. More and more students are making use of this.

"At the same time, we used to have a set of lower-level certificates for languages that were the equivalent to a GCSE. Students don't seem to want to do this so much any more."

Nenhum comentário: