Edinburgh City Council has revealed plans to push ahead with the teaching of languages to pupils in primary schools. The new programme will see every pupil in the Capital receive lessons in at least two foreign languages by the time they leave P7.
The scheme, called 1+2, will start in 2017 – three years ahead of a national deadline, set for 2020.
The potential benefits are enormous and extend far beyond being able to order a chocolate croissant in Paris. Studies show learning additional languages increases creativity and flexibility of the mind in young children and enhances critical thinking skills. Pupils who learn a foreign language out-score their non-foreign language learning peers in verbal and maths standardised tests.
It also increases cultural awareness – and improves the ability to read and write in one’s native tongue.
And learning at a young age is simply easier. Children are superior at mimicking new sounds and adopting pronunciation. The brain is open to new sounds and patterns in preadolescence.
Youngsters in Edinburgh will be offered classes in core languages including French, Spanish and Mandarin, as well as Gaelic, Scots and “heritage” tongues such as Polish and Farsi.
However, there is a long way to go before Scotland, and Britain, catches up with other nations. In many parts of Europe learning several languages is a normal part of growing up and the associated benefits are taken for granted.
The attitude to languages in the UK has prevented students from accessing the wider benefits of studying in Europe, a recent House of Lords report concluded.
Edinburgh should be applauded for pushing ahead with this. But parents – many of whom may believe it has not held them back – also have a role in underlining the importances of language and encouraging their children to be bi-lingual at home. Only then can this learning truly take hold.