The Admissions Registrar at The Laurels School on the value that learning a modern language offers students 

The importance of learning a modern foreign language has been widely discussed and accepted. However, when languages were made non-compulsory subjects at GCSE level in 2004, there was a sharp decline in modern foreign language GCSE entries. In the past 15 years, since 2004, this decline has been of 48% on average, with some languages being hit harder than others, German being a case in point. When we look at languages at A Level, the situation is even worse. In a modern world, where language helps to build bridges and bring down walls, this trend is increasingly worrying.

The professional advantage of speaking foreign languages in a globalised world is clearly understood, as is the use of modern foreign languages as a vehicle for cultural understanding. However, beyond this enhanced cultural awareness and increased professional opportunities, learning a foreign language helps children begin to establish links between subjects which would not otherwise be evident. I will illustrate this with a basic example; the word “money” in French is “argent” which literally means silver, and the chemical symbol for the element silver is Ag which is an abbreviation of the word “Argento” which, again, is Latin for silver. These connections become obvious and start being made, almost automatically, when a language is learnt. The establishment of connections both enriches and facilitates the learning of other subjects.

We know that pronunciation is one of the most difficult things to master when learning a foreign language, due to the fact that languages have very different phonetic compositions. If students are not sufficiently exposed to the different phonetic nuances they find it very hard to distinguish between the different sounds. Spanish, for example, is a highly phonetic language where there are only five vowel sounds which are always the same and never change. English, on the other hand,  has 14 vowel sounds which change depending on the meaning of the word being used, so the word tear, for example, can have a completely different pronunciation as a noun if you mean to shed a tear or tear a dress. This makes English particularly difficult to learn as a foreign language and Spanish easier. In order to be able to hear these different sounds, students need to be exposed to them regularly and early. Due to the different linguistic connections, once a foreign language has been learnt, the effect of being able to hear different phonetic sounds and understand different sentence structures (as these vary from language to language) is enhanced and thus learning a second foreign language becomes much easier.

At The Laurels, we recognise the many advantages of being multilingual and one of our GCSE option blocks includes only modern foreign languages, therefore all of our students sit at least one modern foreign language at GCSE level, with many girls opting for two. We have established links with outstanding schools in Paris and Madrid offering highly successful school exchanges. We also take advantage of the multiculturalism of London and many of our native speaker parents run weekly language one-to-one conversation sessions. This has helped us to attain exceptionally high GCSE grades in languages, with over 70% attaining grades 7-9. This is also the case at A Level, where 43% of our students have chosen a language subject.

Further reading: How to support bilingual children