Axing foreign language funding makes us more insular

Morning View
Morning View

The removal of funding for foreign language teaching in Northern Ireland primary schools is a bad decision that will make the Province that little bit more insular.

There is a problem across the English speaking world with low levels of proficiency in any language other than English.

This contrasts sharply with countries such as Germany or Sweden, where there is widespread fluency in a language other than their native language (typically English).

The reasons for this are obvious: English is said to be the most widely spoken language in human history, and almost anywhere you go you will find at least some people who speak it.

This makes things easy for us, and reduces the incentive to learn another language.

But it means that many people in the English speaking world never get to enrich their understanding of the wider world in quite the same way that is intrinsic to people who are bi or multi-lingual.

The lack of widespread competence in a second language is a shortcoming not just in the UK, but in the countries including the United States and Australia.

But it is a particular problem in Northern Ireland, given that we are already in a corner of the British Isles, and some geographical distance from countries that speak a first language other than English.

But the decision to discontinue funding for the Primary Modern Languages Programme into 2015/2016 is particularly unfortunate in light of the decision by the same Sinn Fein-led Education Department to defy expert advice and fund an Irish medium school near Dungiven.

The loss of foreign language teaching while a school for 14 people gets £1 million is, as the Spanish teacher Claire Whyte says on these pages, “scandalous”.

The Irish language is part of the rich tapestry of this island. But such decisions help push it into a tribal box.