Practical acquisition 1

I share Anthony Bushell's concern about the decline of modern languages in the UK ("Linguistic isolationism", 13 May). However, I do not subscribe to his view that it is the "great works of European literature" that should form the basis of such degrees.

Of course, there should still be a place for some courses that concentrate on languages' associated cultures. But if the UK wishes to maintain a "place in the European conversation", we should acknowledge that foreign languages also have a functional role that can enhance one's reach in any discipline.

As an A-level student, I was indignant at being required to read Friedrich Schiller when I wanted to be able to write a good application letter for a summer job in Stuttgart. Nothing worse than enforced classical literature to put you off languages, I thought.

I then moved on to what was then an innovative joint degree in mathematics and German. There we read "intensively and extensively in the target language", as Bushell recommends, but using sources such as political manifestos, government economic papers and weekly doses of Der Spiegel.

So am I "ill-equipped" to deal with educated Germans? I have presented papers at German conferences, negotiated successfully with Berlin authorities and even maintained cordial relations with a German mother-in-law. The study of classical literature is a fine and noble pursuit, but there is a wider world of communication to embrace if we wish to encourage modern language acquisition.

David Bowers, Head of learning development University Campus Suffolk.

Already registered?

Sign in now if you are already registered or a current subscriber. Or subscribe for unrestricted access to our digital editions and iPad and iPhone app.

Register to continue  

You've enjoyed reading five THE articles this month. Register now to get five more, or subscribe for unrestricted access.

Most Commented

  • Elly Walton illustration (16 July 2015)

Whether in jest or not, sexist language shows an insensitivity to gender issues at odds with academic values, argues Dorothy Bishop

  • Tony Little, Eton College headmaster, 2007

Tony Little points to ‘increasing gap’ between teaching standards at sixth form and university

  • Two men looking surprised in an office

Report says projects fail when scholars obsessed with “shiny things” ignore business needs

  • AC Grayling, writer and academic

A. C. Grayling’s ‘Oxbridge-style’ private college strikes agreement with post-92 institution