We all learnt languages at school. I learnt German for seven years and my teachers made me believe I was pretty good at it. A couple of years ago my husband and I decided to go to Berlin for our honeymoon. I had never been to Germany and I thought I could show off my German. However as soon as I stepped onto German soil I was suddenly overcome by a surge of embarrassment and a realisation that I really didn’t know a word of German. I was sad, disappointed and angry for thinking that having top marks at school meant I could speak the language in real life.
So what happened? Why didn’t I learn to speak for real? Should I blame it on my teachers? On the language? On me?
We’ve all learnt languages at school but we can’t really express ourselves in these languages. It almost seems like learning a language at school is a waste of time. Unless you study it later on in university or you live in the country where the language is spoken, it is very unlikely that you will become bilingual in the language you studied at school.
The blame is not to be put on the teacher or the learner. There are amazing teachers out there who teach wonderful language lessons. But a language needs to be used and you need to find the need to use it. Language teachers try to create authentic communicative situations to drill vocabulary but these situations remain artificial. Some learners are ready to play the game but deep inside they know it is not real. Unless you spend a year in the country, the chances that you can speak the language outside the classroom are very slim.
So why not spare one subject and teach the curriculum in two languages. Why not reproduce the family example and welcome a child into the school with two languages rather than one? This is what bilingual education offers. We need bilingual education to be more accessible and more mainstream.
I’ll just end with Eddie Izzard’s famous sketch on learning French.