The Guardian newspaper and the British Academy are making an award: the Public Language Champion Award.
It’s all about the commitment and passion shown by a public figure for the importance of language to British society.
It’s also part of the newspaper’s language learning series, a campaign to open up a debate on language learning.
A range of people have been nominated, including comedians who do their act in French, for example. Here’s a link to the article which tells you who has been nominated and lets you vote for them.
What an excellent idea! At a time when language learning is on the decline in the country, it’s good to see someone trying to promote it.
Numbers of sixth form students opting to study the traditional French, Spanish or German are down. Part of this is because these are hard A Levels and students are afraid of not getting the points they need to earn a place at university. Or, more worryingly, they are advised against taking a language at A Level for that same reason.
Another factor is the preparation they get earlier in their education. I read recently that someone in government said the numbers taking GCSE in Modern Languages were going up. Unfortunately, everyone I know still teaching at sixth form level tells me that the new style GCSE means that students turn up even more poorly prepared than ever to study at a higher level.
Add to that the fact that many universities are closing down or severely reducing their provision of degree courses in Modern Languages and that the cost of studying is going up and up and you can see why I am more than a little concerned. Pretty soon the ability to speak a foreign language anything like fluently will be the preserve of a wealthy elite.
But that’s ok because this weekend I have read that one of Education Minister Gove’s advisers has made a statement that success in education depends more on genetics than on the quality of teaching and that, in any case, most of the teaching in most of the wealthy countries of the world is mediocre to say the least. So in one fell swoop he denigrates the work of masses of dedicated teachers all over the place and dashes lots of people’s hopes of advancement.
And then I came across something in today’s Guardian that upset me some more about language and education and goodness knows what else. In their Fashion Blog online the writer was talking attitudes to and the reporting of what stars wear on the red carpet when they accept awards and said this: “I fear that would make my colleagues and I little more than leering middle-aged men in bad suits”. What the attitudes are doesn’t matter at all at the moment. What shocked me was that “my colleagues and I” overcorrection.
I have slowly and grudgingly almost come to accept people saying things like “me and friends are going to the pictures” - but only almost. (I still correct my granddaughter on the grounds that she needs to know it’s not correct and at some point she might need to impress someone with her immaculate grammar.) But when I hear “between you and I” or “please do this for Mary and I” or “that would make my colleagues and I look like ...”, well, I see red. Probably red pen putting big red circle round the offending poor grammar.
And whether you write about politics or fashion, if you write for a reputable newspaper you should be able to write correctly.
It’s not too hard!
Rant over! Bring on the language awards!