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Linda Parker

BBC languages

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Forum members may be aware that the BBC is proposing to axe its TV languages programmes for adult learners. These enormously valuable resources (accompanied by books, audio cassettes etc and more recently enhanced by online resources) have provided teachers - and especially those teaching adult beginners - with a wealth of material over the years and will be sorely missed. What message does this gives out about the importance of languages at a time when the National Languages Strategy is promoting lifelong learning of languages? Although the BBC intends to continue its online provision (and the BBC languages web pages are regularly among the top 30 hits on their website), many teachers (especially those working in AE institutions which can range from specialist AE colleges to church halls!) and learners still do not have online access and anyway, the online resources will be poorer without the enhancement of the varied resources from the TV programmes.

The BBC charter is currently up for renewal - so linguists please make your voices heard! You can also write to John Willis, Director of Factual and Learning, at the BBC.

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I should have made clear in my last posting that there will be no NEW language programmes being made - repeats of all current series WILL continue. But no existing provision will be updated and no new languages will be introduced. This is especially worrying for those less widely taught languages that the BBC has been so good at supporting in the past. The new Chinese course is a good example of this.

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Forum members may be aware that the BBC is proposing to axe its TV languages programmes for adult learners. These enormously valuable resources (accompanied by books, audio cassettes etc and more recently enhanced by online resources) have provided teachers - and especially those teaching adult beginners - with a wealth of material over the years and will be sorely missed. What message does this gives out about the importance of languages at a time when the National Languages Strategy is promoting lifelong learning of languages?

This is indeed disturbing news. I wonder if this is the result of pressure from commercial firms who have been opposed to these services being provided free by the BBC.

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Forum members may be aware that the BBC is proposing to axe its TV languages programmes for adult learners. These enormously valuable resources (accompanied by books, audio cassettes etc and more recently enhanced by online resources) have provided teachers - and especially those teaching adult beginners - with a wealth of material over the years and will be sorely missed. What message does this gives out about the importance of languages at a time when the National Languages Strategy is promoting lifelong learning of languages?

This is indeed disturbing news. I wonder if this is the result of pressure from commercial firms who have been opposed to these services being provided free by the BBC.

Historians recently experienced similar problems with the axing of the BBC's acclaimed online History of Medicine resources. No reason was given.

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Democracies are undermined by the fact that some people can use their power and wealth to influence the result of elections. Of course, the people who pay out this money expect something in return. The United States has suffered from this problem for some time. George Bush is only the latest president to reward his financial backers.

In Britain there has been a dramatic change in the way the Labour Party has been funded. At one time the party was largely funded by the trade unions. It now relies on donations from wealthy individuals. Of course, it is very unusual for wealthy individuals to provide money to political parties committed to redistribution of wealth. It is therefore no surprise that this aspect of the party’s programme has been dropped.

Early this week the parliamentary ombudsman forced Tony Blair to disclose details of private meetings he has had with commercial lobbyists. This has resulted in the revelation that Blair had a private meeting with Paul Drayson on 6th December, 2001. Soon afterwards two things happened: (1) Drayson donated £100,000 to the Labour Party; (2) Drayson’s company, PowerJect, won a £32 million contract to produce a smallpox vaccine. The most surprising aspect of this contract was that it was not put out to open tender.

Another company to get lots of government contracts is Jarvis. The company is involved in building and maintaining railways, schools, hospitals and roads and is totally dependent on government contracts. Despite having a chairman, Steven Norris, who is a former Conservative Party minister, Jarvis is a generous donor to the Labour Party.

If this happened in local government the person responsible would be imprisoned for corruption. However, prime ministers can do it without any fear of it having any problems with the courts.

I wonder who Tony Blair has been meeting with recently.

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Dear Colleagues

Just got back from six glorious days skiing in Austria. I posted the following message to the Linguanet Forum:

Re: BBC Languages

I have heard murmurings about the BBC's plans from various sources. The key issue that concerns me, however, is the headlong rush into putting everything on the Web at the expense of other media - and it's not only the BBC that is guilty of this. There seem to be two reasons for this: (i) Web mania, (ii) the high costs of producing high-quality video-based courses. Once you have a Web template in place you can whack out a string of language courses quickly and cheaply, e.g. the various courses targeting the adult learner that appear at the BBC languages website - but is this what we really want?

The BBC has produced some excellent video materials. There is no question in my mind that TV series of yesteryear were far, far superior to anything that has appeared in the meantime at the BBC languages website - and I write as one of the consultants employed by the BBC in the development of German Steps. I've raised this issue before: you can pick up the thread from my earlier email (4 April 2003):

http://www.mailbase.org.uk/lists/linguanet...03-04/0067.html

where I wrote:

"There were three great series around at the time:

- Buongiorno Italia

- Deutsch Direct

- A Vous la France

All three were very popular with students when I was a university language

centre director. The videos were well-produced and interesting, consisting

to a large extent of authentic conversations and documentary materials, and

there was a high-quality coursebook and audiocassettes. Why is this kind of

material not being produced any longer? It seems that the BBC is putting

all its efforts into BBCi. The BBCi language materials are OK as far as

they go, but where are the high-quality video materials - which is what the

BBC is particularly good at producing? Furthermore, the BBCi materials -

along with most Web-based learning materials - lack the kind of

interactivity that was already at an advanced stage around the same time as

the above packages were being produced, i.e. in the 1980s. I am thinking

in particular of the Expodisc and the Vektor interactive videodiscs - and

the excellent A la rencontre de Philippe that appeared in the USA. We've

moved on in terms of the delivery medium, i.e. the Web, but moved backwards

in terms of interaction, including the the possibility of recording one's

own voice and hearing it played back, slotted into the correct place in a

role-play, as in the TELL Encounters series of CD-ROMs (which date back to

the mid-1990s). More technology, less pedagogy... "

David Wilson (of the BBC) replied at:

http://www.mailbase.org.uk/lists/linguanet...03-04/0118.html

As an MFL/ICT enthusiast, with a track record dating back to 1976, I feel that we are losing sight of the benefits of media other than ICT, especially Web-based ICT. Unfortunately the current trend is to "do it on the Web", regardless of whether the Web is the best medium for "doing it". See my article "Doing it on the Web", (2001) Language Learning Journal (ALL) 24: 34-35

http://www.camsoftpartners.co.uk/DoingIt.htm

I have already detected a growing feeling of ennui among language teachers regarding the Web. My enthusiasm has certainly faded. The Web is always my first point of call when seeking information, but it comes rather low on my list as a delivery medium for high-quality language learning materials. Give me a good quality audio CD or videocassette and a book anytime in preference to the Web. If you require an interactive medium, then CD-ROMs or DVD-ROMs are superior to the Web.

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I'm afraid this seems to be part of a conspiracy to stop the proliferation of langages amongst the young and the more experienced. What this is doing is only contributing to the feeling of supremacy that a lot of Britons already experience. I mean by that that although English ia (badly) spoken nearly everywhere, it doesn't replace the sense of achievement of being able to go somewhere and make yourself understood by the locals. I personally find it crippling to be abroad and not be able to comunicate in the language. Learning a language is humbling yet enriching but mostly challenging. It feels like the ignorant mob is winning a battle against culture, against understanding one's neighbour.

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And what happened to the dream of the multilingual European Union in which everyone was supposed to be able to handle two foreign languages as well as their mother tongue? In most EU countries virtually every young person can communicate adequately in one foreign language as well as in their mother tongue, but in the UK we remain resolutely monolingual.

Mother tongue plus two foreign languages, however, is just a pipe-dream now, not only in the UK but elsewhere in the EU. How many countries put an effort into teaching two foreign languages at school? Not many. The trend in most EU countries is to teach just one foreign language at school: English, which is now the de facto lingua franca of the EU. In most EU countries the status of the second foreign language in the school curriculum has slipped badly - a message that was conveyed by Dr Hans-Friedrich von Ploetz, Germany's former ambassador to the UK, in his aptly entitled keynote, "Multilinguales Europa: Illusion oder Zukunftschance?", at the European Year of Languages conference in Berlin, 2001.

I have worked as a consultant to the EC in Brussels on several occasions. Meetings are usually conducted in English. French is used only occasionally, and I have only ever needed to use German (my first foreign language) when socialising with German-speaking colleagues.

The onslaught of English is due to continue in the recently expanded EU, I'm afraid. One of the reasons is economic. How can we afford to translate every important document issued by the Commission into all the EU languages?

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This really makes me feel like a dynosaur... my ideals are indeed very inadequate for the place where I live and the environment where I work.

The difference between ther English speakers and the non English speakers is as follows: the former expect every body to speak their own language wherever they go and the latter are so flattered when you try to communicate in their own language. I recewntly took a holiday to Spain and I did my best to learn a bit of Spanish before going as we weren't going to the Costa Del Sol but something a bit more 'Spanish'. When In Seville I was so frustrated at every body speaking English all the time, yet I tried really hard to speak Spanish and one night one bar/restaurant owner told me I spoke very good Spanish. That meant a lot to me, it prooved that I had achieved the goal I had set myself. Although my Spanish wasn't too good, I think that old man was genuinely touched by the fact that some 'British' holiday maker was trying to communicate with him.

What can we do about this government conspiratcy to eradicate Languages from the curriculum?

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Audrey writes:

When In Seville I was so frustrated at every body speaking English all the time, yet I tried really hard to speak Spanish and one night one bar/restaurant owner told me I spoke very good Spanish.

I have had similar experiences in Spain and in other European countries. I speak fluent German and I go skiing in Austria every year. I always find it hard work getting Austrians to speak in German to me. Everyone in the tourism industry can speak English and they are keen to use it. I don't force the issue unless I can see that they are struggling to express something and then I switch to German - as on the occasion when my ski instructor was trying to tell our group that when exercising a certain move one had to distribute one's weight evenly across the sole of the foot. I translated what he wanted to say and from that point on became the unofficial interpreter for the group - and I rarely bought my own beer for the remainder of the holiday!

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[ I translated what he wanted to say and from that point on became the unofficial interpreter for the group - and I rarely bought my own beer for the remainder of the holiday!]

That's the type of things that I like to hear... Good on you.

Last May I took some pupils to Germany on the German exchange at my school and obviously, German isn't my best language. I was really chuffed because I was going to be able to improve! Unfortunately, my German was so poor compared to the German teachers' English that I had to revert back to English most of the time. It felt very frustrating because I wasn't getting what I wanted out of the trip and whenever I did try to speak German the temptation was too big whenever I couldn't express myself in German to revert back to English. All in all to say that I can understand why people feel more comfortable spaeking a language they know, what I can't is why they don't try. Football players can learn a labguage so why can't pupils?

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Football players can learn a language so why can't pupils?

Good point, Audrey! There are many players from abroad who play for English teams and a fair number of them have a good command of English. I am not aware, however, of many English players having had much success in learning foreign languages. How far did Becks get with his Spanish?

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Yet more doom and gloom in this story at the BBC website:

"Languages in schools 'in decline'.

French and German lessons are in "chronic decline", with too many students

dropping languages altogether at age 16, a study warns."

http://newswww.bbc.net.uk/1/hi/education/4304099.stm

I find this a bit ironic as the BBC is contributing to the decline by no

longer producing broadcast TV programmes for adult language learners. I

suppose it's a "bums on seats" thing. High-quality TV programmes of the

sort that the BBC used to broadcast (remember "Buongiorno Italia" and "A

Vous la France?) are expensive to produce and don't attract large

audiences. I guess this accounts for the epidemic of cheap-to-produce

"reality TV" programmes showing people making a mess of buying a property

in Spain or setting up an Indian restaurant in France - and don't you just

love it when everything goes pear-shaped? Now here's an opportunity that

the BBC appears to have missed. How about showing a success story where,

say, an English couple who have taken the trouble to master the French

language (by following a BBC course) make a real go of setting up a B&B in

France?

I hope that we are all keeping up the pressure on Liz Cleaver at the BBC -

as individuals and through this Forum and our subject associations - to

review this short-sighted policy. It appears that a disproportionate amount

of money is being pumped into broadband delivery of educational materials.

I am not convinced that this is a sensible move. Firstly, who wants to be

educated sitting bolt upright, two feet away from a computer screen? Not

me. I would rather sit in a comfy armchair watching a TV programme with my

dog's head on my lap and a glass of beer in my right hand. Secondly, in

future will we be able to afford to be online for an indefinite amount of

time? As I indicated in a previous email to this Forum, many broadband

service providers are moving over to a pay-as-you-go service, along the

lines of that provided by mobile phone service providers. My broadband

service provider will introduce a sliding scale in April, whereby average

users like myself will continue to pay around 15-20 pounds per month and

the heaviest users will pay up to 300 pounds per month. It's the end of the

free lunch!

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I must be telepathic. I fire off an email criticising the BBC and they announce that they are sacking the board of governors. Looking at the proposed changes, it appears that there will be less "reality TV" in the future and the BBC will be persuaded to stop chasing the audience ratings and concentrate on what it is good at, namely using its creative talents to produce high-quality programmes.

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