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A foreign language is a language not spoken by the people of a certain place. It is also a language not spoken in the native country of the person referred to, i.e. an English speaker living in Japan can say that Japanese is a foreign language to him or her. These two characterizations do not exhaust the possible definitions, however, and the label is occasionally applied in ways that are variously misleading or factually inaccurate.

File:Ldl-wortschatz.jpg
A German student learning French.

Some children learn more than one language from birth or from a very young age: they are bilingual or multilingual. These children can be said to have two mother tongues: neither language is foreign to that child, even if one language is a foreign language for the vast majority of people in the child's birth country. For example, a child learning English from her English mother and Japanese at school in Japan can speak both English and Japanese, but neither is a foreign language to her.

Foreign language education and ability

See main article: Language education

Template:Globalize/Europe Most schools around the world teach at least one foreign language. By 1998 nearly all students in Europe studied at least one foreign language as part of their compulsory education, the only exception being Ireland, where primary and secondary schoolchildren learn both Irish and English, but neither is considered a foreign language (although Irish pupils do study a third European language). On average in Europe, at the start of foreign language teaching, learners have lessons for three to four hours a week. Compulsory lessons in a foreign language normally start at the end of primary school or the start of secondary school. In Luxembourg, Norway and Malta, however, the first foreign language is studied at age six, and in Flanders at age 10[1]. In Wales, all children are taught Welsh from the first year of primary school, which is a foreign language to the majority of the population. The Welsh language is also compulsory up to the age of 16, although a formal GCSE qualification is optional.

In some countries, learners have lessons taken entirely in a foreign language: for example, more than half of European countries with a minority/regional language community use partial immersion to teach both the minority and the state language.

In 1995 the European Commission’s White Paper on Education and Training emphasized the importance of schoolchildren learning at least two foreign languages before upper secondary education. The Lisbon Summit of 2000 defined languages as one of the five key skills[How to reference and link to summary or text].

Despite the high rate of foreign language teaching in schools, the number of adults claiming to speak a foreign language is generally lower than might be expected. This is particularly true of native English speakers: in 2004 a British survey showed that only one in 10 UK workers could speak a foreign language and less than 5% could count to 20 in a second language. In 2001, a European Commission survey found that 65.9% of people in the UK spoke only their native tongue.[How to reference and link to summary or text]

Since the 1990s, the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages has tried to standardize the learning of languages across Europe.

Pronunciation

Main article: Non-native pronunciations of English

Research into foreign language learning

See Second Language Acquisition

In 2004 a report by the Michel Thomas Language Centre in the United Kingdom suggested that speaking a second language could increase an average worker's salary by £3,000 a year, or £145,000 in a lifetime. Further results showed that nine out of 10 British companies thought their businesses could benefit from better language skills. Studies show that a person that is bilingual or multilingual, can make a greater salary than a computer programmer or engineer because they can use their abilities in foreign language to obtain success in a wide range of career paths. Also due to the increase of international population, a multilingual person can easily communicate and translate to perspective viewers.

Also in 2004, a study by University College London (UCL) examined the brains of 105 people who could speak more than one language. The study found that people who learned a second language when younger had denser grey matter than those who learned one later. Grey matter is the part of the brain where information is processed.

Other research has shown that early exposure to a second language increases divergent thinking strategies, helping not only in language-related tasks, but also in areas such as math. Children early on have different ways of expressing themselves, such that they better understand there is more than one way to look at a problem and that there is more than one solution.

See also

Notes

  1. http://www.ond.vlaanderen.be/beleid/nota/talenbeleid-deel4.htm#2.6 Children in the Flemish Community of Belgium start learning French at age 10, English at 12 or 13 and, if chosen so, mostly German or Spanish at age 15 or 16, but with only the first two being obligatory. In the Brussels Capital Region, however, French is taught starting at age 8.
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