Teachers call for return of foreign exchange trips to halt the decline of language skills

Linguists are calling for a revival of the school foreign exchange trip to help tackle the crisis in language learning. This is from the Observer

Language teachers, including the head of the Independent Schools‘ Modern Language Association, say the dramatic decline in the numbers of pupils going abroad for home stays – where they are placed with a family as part of a twinning exercise with a school in continental Europe – is fuelling the dropping rates of children studying the subjects.

The Observer revealed last month that the drop in pupils studying modern languages is likely to lead to the closure of up to 40% of university language departments within a decade, with worries growing among employers and the Foreign Office about graduate recruitment…

Pupils’ visits to host families, usually in France or Germany, used to be a regular feature of school life, but health and safety regulations, risk-averse parents, and a reluctance among children to stay in a stranger’s home mean the trips are disappearing from school life.

Nick Mair, chairman of the Independent Schools’ Modern Language Association, who teaches at Dulwich College, London, said a revival was urgently needed in the state and private sectors. Exchange trips were, he said, worth at least half a grade in exams, and his school believed them so important that teachers were asked about them in job interviews.

…Research by the British Council found that only 22% of British people are able to speak a foreign language well. But the council claims that the foreign exchange is still with us: it just does not include stays in the homes of host families.

Its schools adviser, Vicky Gough, said: “People talking about the end of schoolchildren making connections with foreign cultures is nonsense. What doesn’t happen so much is the thing that you partner a school and stay with a family. Some of that is to do with child protection; some is that people just don’t have the spare room. And British schoolchildren are more reluctant to leave their comfort zone. We had an inquiry from a French school recently but weren’t able to find an exchange school for them.

“But we are seeing lots of exciting projects, such as a trip to Kurdistan for a group from Bury St Edmunds. Modern trips are less language-focused, and more about culture and communication.”

More at:  Teachers call for return of foreign exchange trips to halt the decline of language skills

Do you think the reduction in exchange trips has made a contribution to the decline in foreign language learning? Is a trip to another country without the element of staying on your own with a family quite the same? Please tell us what you think in the comments or on twitter… 

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