Languages at risk: tech can help

Research shows that many schools are withdrawing A-level languages, but Panos Kraniotis says tech can help keep them going

This year’s A-Level results in England, Wales and Northern Ireland saw an increase in top grades for the first time in six years, but future results may see fewer qualifications in modern language.

Despite businesses recognising the importance of language skills in the workforce, a recent survey revealed the extent of withdrawn A-Level language subjects. Conducted by the Association of Colleges (AoC) for Tes (formally the Times Educational Supplement), the research revealed that 60 percent of colleges that offer A-Levels have cut subjects, including languages, with one in five no longer offering German, and one in eight withdrawing French and Spanish. The drop in these particular language courses is especially disappointing as a CBI/Pearson survey shows that French, German and Spanish are the most desirable to companies when looking for potential employees, with half of employers rating French as useful to their business, 47 percent German and 30 percent Spanish.

It’s an unfortunate development for the future of language learning – particularly considering modern-day technology is making studying a language that much easier. Without these skills, young people in the UK may find themselves at a disadvantage compared to their European counterparts when they come to look for jobs.

As educational institutions continue to integrate technology into the classroom – through learning management systems (LMS) or smart boards, for example – language classes should be no different. These courses no longer need to involve a teacher reading and translating a foreign textbook to students. Technology is now available that can make language learning much more sophisticated, accessible and engaging.

Skills for tomorrow’s workforce

There is a high level of competition post-graduation as businesses look for employees that will give them a competitive edge, such as knowing an additional language. Organisations could struggle to implement and support global strategies if they are not equipped with a workforce that has multilingual capabilities – particularly in the light of Brexit. Having employees that can speak in a different language will help them when expanding into new markets, fostering new relationships, and dealing with international customers. After all, it’s fair to assume the customer has the prerogative when it comes to deciding the language used in negotiation.

The original Rosetta Stone

While many global companies are starting to implement language learning programmes in their offices, these technology-based programmes need to start at school in order to give students a better foundation, and more opportunities later on.

The role of technology

The AoC research cites a lack of demand, low funding and staffing issues as reasons for removing subjects such as languages from A-Level offerings. However, this is where technology can play a critical role in helping deliver attractive language courses that support students and teachers alike, both inside and outside the classroom.

Through adaptable and engaging digital programmes, technology can transform how students learn and colleges teach, helping learners grasp languages and flourish in their studies.

Students have different learning needs and work at different levels; educators and businesses can leverage technology to help facilitate a streamlined learning platform and provide the opportunity to personalise courses to suit different learning styles, capabilities and approaches. Online learning content can adapt, meaning that students can learn at their own pace. It can also be highly interactive and therefore help keep engagement levels up.

Using technology is second nature to today’s students and this familiarity helps prepare them to respond well to digital courses.

Using technology is second nature to today’s students and this familiarity helps prepare them to respond well to digital courses. Well designed, virtual learning environments that take a blended approach, incorporating video, online games and quizzes, and live tutoring, in addition to traditional face-to-face teaching with a teacher, enables educational institutions to deliver a flexible language learning course that is comprehensive, enjoyable, and offers real value.

It is important that students are offered the opportunity to learn and develop language proficiency using technology. Indeed, cutting these courses will only have a negative impact on students’ prospects and the ability of UK businesses to expand internationally in the future. In a world that increasingly relies and thrives on technology, in both the boardroom and the classroom, removing a course should be a last resort.

Today’s language learning technology is sophisticated, intelligent, and built for the digital-savvy student. Schools, colleges and universities need to be taking advantage of these solutions to encourage more language learning – as opposed to the opposite – in order to truly prepare them for the working world.

Panos Kraniotis is Regional Director, Europe at Rosetta Stone