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Foreign Language Learning in Situ

Lynn is dismayed on two counts to read the results of the latest British Council survey on school exchange trips abroad. 

As a supply teacher, the decline of these exchanges has meant a decline in the work one gets covering for the accompanying teachers. This used to be very lucrative, especially in the summer term.

However, on a more lofty note, as a modern linguist I find it very sad that only 30% of comprehensive schools provide their students with the opportunity to access different cultures in this, the most effective, way. Apparently exchanges are still going strong in independent schools (77%) which is not surprising since many middle-class parents are keen that their offspring can participate fully in the family holidays in the Dordogne or Andalucia. Those who maintain that 'everyone speaks English' and there is no need to learn the local lingo are encouraging dreadful arrogance in young people.

The British Council also cites anxiousness about safety concerns as another cause of the reluctance to take part. When I used to organise exchanges I would hear the same apocryphal stories about host families year after year - bad food, bad plumbing, weird people. Where, I used to ask my students, was their sense of adventure? I, myself, did the Bristol-Bordeaux exchange for the first time at the age of thirteen. It was for a month in those days; now teachers struggle to get students to go from a Monday to a Friday. I had the time of my life; it was my first trip abroad and I was intoxicated by the sights and smells, the food, and, most of all being able to communicate with families who could not speak English. It ignited a love of travel that has never dimmed.

If students do not want to engage properly with the people and cultures of other countries I sometimes wonder what is the point of teaching languages at all in schools.

Tags: Lyn, Bristol, Secondary, supply

Category: Australian Teachers

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