Sunday, 17 February 2008

Things that make you go ARGH

Sometimes I read or hear a news headline and just have to yell "argh" in response - and this weekend it has happened twice! Yesterday it was the ridiculous suggestion from the Government's Health Minister to get rid of the single GP surgery and instead use "polyclinics" - an idea that has rightly been accused by the BMA as being very "London-centric".

Today it is the unbelievably stupid suggestion that oral tests could be dropped from language GCSEs because they are too stressful!! How can you get a GCSE qualification in a language if you can't prove you can speak it? I am shaking my head in disbelief as I write...not least because I am constantly ashamed about how badly we Brits speak foreign languages as it is. When I go abroad I always try and learn at least 'please' and 'thank you' and will buy a phrase book so that I can attempt to order food and drink - even if I am reading it. Most of the time the waiters or train ticket sellers or shop staff can speak English so often the embarrassment of mis-pronunciation is avoided. But when foreign travellers come here do we help them ask for directions or order a burger by speaking their language? Never! And nor will we if these stupid proposals are implemented. A 15 minute oral test might be stressful but boy how grateful will you be later on it life when you can order yourself something to eat and drink when you are lost, tired and hungry in a foreign land. Can someone please bring some common sense back into our education system?


John M Ward said...

I found the oral part of language exams stressful, but realised fully that they were essential.

Someone once claimed that I spoke two languages well -- English and Rubbish :-)

As it happens, I have varying levels of knowledge of over thirty languages (much of which stems from my time working in the Immigration Dept) even including some Klingon(!)

John M Ward said...

Oh, another thing. I was once asked to help out when a French student was staying here on the Davis Estate and needed help with something.

Apparently I was the only person around that anyone knew of who spoke French It worked well, showing that it is possible for us to converse in a visitor's own language -- and I have done so in the street on numerous occasions, in various languages.

I suppose it's an occupational hazard of walking more-or-less everywhere, and having to pass through a tourist area (historic Rochester) on my way to the Council Offices...

Anonymous said...

In my job it helps a lot that I can speak basic, GCSE-level French and German, but I cannot usually put it as a priority for hiring people, as there are more important criteria.

It irritates me intensely that I have to put up with employing people who cannot speak anything of a second language at all, despite the fact that the only important two are the most commonly taught in the UK. It is not that they are stupid, or unable to learn. To qualify to apply for the job they must have passed a course far harder than any GCSE or A level. No-one taught them, they were allowed to believe it was not important, like so much of he knowledge I think is basic education!

Brian said...

Similar to Cllr Ward, I found O Level French useful in the Civil Service. When I worked in a JobCentre, I saved £7 a minute in telephone translation charges by conducting interviews with French and Francophone African speakers speaking a combination of my school and holiday French and using Babelfish. You soon realize how much can be accomplished with 400-500 words of vocabulary. As well as breaking the ice it encouraged the interviewees to try English as well.

Anonymous said...

I agree that it is common courtesy, if nothing else, to be able to meet and greet others in their own language. The surprise and joy of others when you attempt their language is a joy (my best compliment to date is that a Belgian Flemish speaker said I spoke Dutch like a farmer from north east Netherlands).

Equally, when dealing with European professionals, they often speak English better than many British people and are usually fluent in 2 or 3 languages and highly competent in several more.

Why can't we realise speaking English slowly and loudly is not being multilingual!

Brian said...

The owner of a cafe-tabac (how O Level!)in Paris paid me a nice compliment when I settled the bill for my omelette, frites et salade avec un verre de vin rouge (order things you know otherwise it can be steak tartare without the sauce!)in French "Vous etes allemagne?" Well, at least I wasn't parleying with an English accent.

Alan W Collins said...

I have to admit that I yelled "argh!" when I first read this as well - it angered me so much - and very nearly posted my grievances about it on my blog.

Yes, oral exams are stressful (I have had more oral exams in the past three or so years than I would have liked, GCSE French, German & Spanish, AS Spanish and AS Spanish resit I'm ashamed to say) but you learn a language to be able to converse in it, not just to read it from a textbook.

Besides, what is a little bit of stress in a controlled environment, compared to the far greater stress incurred because you can't remember the Spanish for a map, chicken and chips and a bed for the night (una carta, un pollo con patatas fritas y una cama por la noche) when in that foreign land?