Learning Language Skills

by Claudia Bachman

British students are being encouraged to show off their language skills for a chance to win a trip to Munich during the World Cup in summer 2006. The competition is part of a campaign to encourage young people to learn and enjoy other European languages and cultures, while appreciating the benefits of regular exercise and healthy eating.

Starwatch, with help from 21 top footballers (including England international stars Steven Gerrard and Owen Hargreaves), harnesses an enthusiasm for football to encourage language learning and healthy living to 12?18-year-olds through using a range of classroom activities. Students are also encouraged to create fitness teams to train together at school.

The Starwatch competition encourages students to create projects based on their football heroes. The prize which awaits the winning entrants makes it all worthwhile: a trip to Munich to join the World Cup party in early July. Students are queuing up to learn German in the hope of joining the footballers in Germany. Indeed 2006 is the most popular year for German courses in English schools in over a decade, as kids have Munich on the brain. Some enthusiastic youngsters are taking their quest for world cup glory one stage further by choosing to learn German in Dresden or study a German course in Berlin. The hope is that young people will develop an enthusiasm for language learning which will carry on way beyond a football tournament and into adulthood.


Language learning in the UK has been something of a sore point for a number of years. For decades Britain has lagged behind in language teaching provision and a recent study showed that, in Europe, only a couple of former Eastern Bloc countries had higher levels of monolingualism than Britain. This situation is in the process of being amplified by the British government's decision to drop a compulsory foreign language from the GCSE syllabus. More students are now taking independent action and studying Spanish courses and French courses in their spare time. Braver children are even choosing to dedicate their school holidays to language learning in a way that British children rarely have: they are learning languages abroad.

Children wishing to learn Spanish are choosing to learn Spanish in Barcelona (the current home of Ronaldinho) or take a Spanish course in Argentina (the home of Lionel Messi and Diego Maradona) instead of learning in an English classroom, where the standard of teaching is probably lower and the course may not be run in the first place! There are plenty of opportunities to learn Spanish in London, but the argument is that a child in a developed country like Great Britain should not have to leave their home town to learn a new language.