European Journal of Language Policy

Language learners in a global age: Challenges and opportunities

European Journal of Language Policy (2009), 1, (2), 165–186.

Abstract

At a time when communications and global infrastructures have seen ongoing improvements, facilitating ease of travel and interaction with people from other cultures, it would seem logical to assume a corresponding increase in language study. However, as is frequently indicated, this is all too often not the case, particularly (but not only) for the English-speaking world. Following a brief consideration of the situation regarding language take-up in the United Kingdom, this article looks at key challenges facing language learning in an English-speaking environment. Research undertaken by the author within one region of the UK (Northern Ireland), as well as national research in the area, illustrate the attitudes of learners and the impact of systems on language study. Despite underlying concerns, there is much that is positive in the current situation, as in the opportunities for language use in career settings. There is also considerable support for the acquisition of language competence, both nationally and beyond, including a variety of measures and proactive initiatives from the European Union. The article argues that in a world where languages can no longer remain the preserve of an elite, it is vital that language educators find ways of interesting a much wider range of the population so that the motivating factors acknowledged by able and enthusiastic language learners may also become part of their experience.

A une époque où les communications et les infrastructures mondiales font d'importants progrès et que les voyages et les interactions avec des personnes venues d'autres cultures se multiplient, il semblerait logique de penser que l'étude des langues connaisse une croissance comparable. Or, ce n'est pas nécessairement le cas, comme on le remarque souvent, surtout dans les pays anglophones. Après quelques considérations au sujet de l'apprentissage des langues au Royaume-Uni, cet article se penche sur les défis principaux auxquels doivent faire face les éducateurs en langues vivantes dans un contexte anglophone. Les recherches menées par l'auteur dans une région particulière (l'Irlande du Nord), aussi bien que des recherches au niveau national, illustrent les attitudes des apprenants et l'effet des systèmes scolaires sur l'étude des langues. Malgré des inquiétudes sous-jacentes, on trouve dans la situation actuelle bon nombre d'éléments positifs, comme les possibilités qu'offre le monde du travail aux personnes pratiquant des langues. Au niveau national et bien au-delà, on peut voir diverses initiatives en faveur de l'acquisition des compétences linguistiques, y compris des mesures de soutien provenant de l'Union européenne. Dans le monde actuel les langues ne peuvent plus être l'apanage des seules élites. Il est donc crucial que les éducateurs en langues trouvent les moyens d'intéresser des sections bien plus larges de la population de sorte que leur expérience linguistique soit aussi motivante que celui des apprenants les plus doués et les plus enthousiastes.

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Lillie, Elisabeth