HL Deb 11 November 1987 vol 489 cc1367-8

3.4 p.m.

Lord Rodney

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what progress is being made to assist firms with language training for the export market.

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, Her Majesty's Government recognise the value of competent business linguists to firms seeking overseas business. A network of language export centres is being established by the Department of Education and Science and the Manpower Services Commission to ensure that an adequate supply of such people is available.

Lord Rodney

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for the Answer. I appreciate that perhaps my supplementary is not directly pointed at him. Does he agree that it is possible for students to obtain an A-level pass in a foreign language and still not be able to speak that language fluently? In view of the fact that the whole curricula of education are under review, will it be possible to review the way foreign languages are taught in schools and to reflect that in examinations?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. There is a programme called Foreign Languages at Work developed by the British Overseas Trade Board, which is part of my department, the London Chamber of Commerce and Lloyds Bank. The scheme enables students who do not continue with foreign languages up to A-level to maintain a practical grasp of the language. That, of course, does help. Over 200 schools are currently providing the course. That is one of the reasons why the Government are so keen that there should be a core curriculum.

Lord Kilmarnock

My Lords, can the Minister tell the House what proportion of the core curriculum the Government are proposing to devote to modern languages?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, I am sure the noble Lord recognises that that is entirely another question.

Lord Rugby

My Lords, does not the noble Lord agree that Latin is an extremely important basis for learning European languages and that it should be taught in schools to assist students of almost any other language spoken in Europe?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, since the Question was about language training for the export market, I should be interested to know what part of the export market still speaks Latin.

Lord Glenamara

My Lords, will the noble Lord look at the excellent language training in polytechnics, build on it and see that it is properly financed?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, I certainly recognise that excellent language training has been done in the polytechnics. I hope that this long continues and that it is extended.

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, has my noble friend seen recent statistics showing that those who, because of their upbringing, have already had to learn two or more languages are very apt to learn still more languages? Is he aware that languages come easily to them? It is upon such young people, especially those who are not good with their hands but who are often good at languages, that we should be concentrating.

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, I have noticed that one of the unfairnesses of life is that those who can learn two languages are often able to learn three, four or even more. Some of us like myself who find difficulty in speaking one language find it impossible to learn two.

Lord Beloff

My Lords, does not the Minister agree that those big firms who take this problem seriously, as they should, tend to send their people on intensive courses in the country concerned? One can learn more in two months in Germany than during a whole A-level course in any school or polytechnic. Will arrangements be made for firms to consult each other about the best method of training for this purpose?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, we are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of speaking foreign languages. I doubt whether we can learn some languages in as short a period as a month or two. I know that within Government, where languages have to be mastered, two years are devoted at the outset of a career to learning Chinese, Japanese or other languages. We benefit from the fact that English is becoming the world's foremost commercial language, but that is not an excuse for not mastering others.