Sunday, July 21One Step Ahead...! EDUCATION

Language learning across the world: A comparison

From the languages spoken on the streets to the food eaten on the tables, different cultures and countries across the globe do all sorts of things differently – and education is no exception. Each country has its own approach to the teaching and learning of foreign languages in particular: from countries which make it compulsory to learn local foreign languages to those which specifically help bilingual students develop their second language, there are all sorts of ways to do it. This article will compare and contrast the different ways languages are taught in schools across the globe, and on what areas of language learning the focus is applied.

An essential subject?

Some places make it compulsory to learn languages as part of the state education system. In the European Union, for example, the vast majority of member states insist that school students learn a foreign language of some variety. This is one of the EU’s aims, and an official document produced in the 1990s said that encouraging the learning of two languages aside from your own should be a key goal for citizens of the bloc. In many EU countries, for example, lots of students learn English. Ironically, however, it’s not compulsory in the United Kingdom for students to learn a foreign language for their major GCSE exams, which are usually taken at the age of 16 – and, probably as a result, the population of the UK has a relatively low level of foreign language ability.

A numbers game

While some places may choose to teach the foreign languages of countries near to their own, others choose to take a quantitative approach to deciding which languages to teach their students instead by opting to teach those which have the most speakers around the world. The Hong Kong international school is one such establishment, and it offers all students the chance to learn both Chinese and Spanish – given that these are some of the most widely-spoken languages on Earth. As well as giving students the power to speak to a substantial proportion of the world’s population, this kind of approach also means that students learn how to use the symbols and shapes of two different alphabets to decode unfamiliar words and meanings, as well as two different underlying cultures – broadening their horizons even further.

Assistance for bilingual families

Some countries, meanwhile, recognize that the language learning starting blocks are already in place for some children – especially those who come from multilingual families. In Finland, for example, the local school system has set up an innovative and exciting scheme which make it free for students from these backgrounds to get extra training in their second family language. This way, the students can speed up the language learning process and play a stronger role in a multicultural world.

Learning a foreign language is something that many students across the globe do daily. But the way it’s delivered changes from place to place. While some countries choose to make it compulsory to learn certain languages, others offer flexibility and help pupils boost their skills in languages they may already know from their family background. It’s all part of living in a complex world with multifaceted, ever-changing education systems which suit the needs of local populations.

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