UCL News


Modern languages in the UK: A crisis?

7 December 2006

On 3 December 2006, ‘The Observer’ published a letter by 50 leading academics, which expressed alarm about the slump in the number of teenagers taking GCSEs in foreign languages. This letter called for the government to reverse its controversial policy, which allows students to drop modern languages at 14.

Professor Worton

UCL has also grave concerns about the situation in modern language learning in the UK, but it is taking a somewhat different position from simply calling for the government to reverse its policy. On 12 December 2006, UCL’s Academic Committee will vote on a proposal that will ultimately require all applicants to have a qualification in a foreign language at GCSE or equivalent. This requirement will be phased in gradually over the various disciplines, thereby allowing schools time to make appropriate changes to their teaching provision.

UCL is thereby seeking to replace the notion of the compulsion to study a modern language with an aspiration to study one or more languages.  Professor Michael Worton, Chair of Academic Committee and Fielden Professor of French Language & Literature (and the author of UCL’s proposal) argued on the ‘Today’ programme on 4 December 2006 that the purpose of studying a modern language and culture needs to be made much more explicit and should be expressed in terms of: (a) increased employability in a global work market; (b) inter-cultural understanding; and (c) personal development. 

As a university teaching 22 modern European languages and with a HEFCE-funded Centre for Excellence in Learning & Teaching on ‘Languages of the Wider World’, with SOAS, UCL is well placed to give a leadership role in this area.

To find out more about Professor Worton, use the link at the bottom of this article.

Image: Professor Worton


Professor Worton