Can an anglophone country ever become 'language aware'? The Nuffield Languages Inquiry Report, 2000

Peter Downes, OBE, Nuffield Languages Inquiry, UK

The crisis affecting MFL teaching in the UK (declining numbers post-16, in HE and in teacher training) has been linked to the perception that ‘English is enough’. Those fortunate enough to be born in an English-speaking country are learning the world language from birth so what can be the point in wasting a lot of time, money and effort in learning other languages when everybody else speaks ours?

It was to address this issue, among others, that an independent commission of inquiry was set up in the UK in late 1998, funded by the Nuffield Foundation and co-chaired by the well-known newsreader, Sir Trevor McDonald and the Master of Churchill College, Cambridge, Sir John Boyd. The membership of the panel was drawn from the ‘providers’ (teachers in school, colleges, university and adult education) and the ‘users’ (commerce, industry, civil service). A consultation document was widely distributed and a large amount of evidence received. The Inquiry commissioned research into those areas from which little evidence was forthcoming, i.e. the needs of business.

The Inquiry’s final report Languages: the next generation was published in May 2000 and its recommendations will be presented to the Conference. A copy of the summary of the Report will be made available to all delegates.

Underlying the issues discussed, many of which were structural and technical (the nature of the exam system, the constraints of a national curriculum, the lack of financial incentive for linguists to become teachers) was the question of what it really means to be monolingual. What are the social, cultural and personal consequences of not being language aware and, to some extent, language proficient?