Czechs should learn several languages — even Mandarin

Most top managers polled by Czech Position say learning another foreign language besides English should be compulsory in schools

Luděk Bednář | 15.03.2011
Based on responses from 145 top managers

Experts from the government’s National Economic Council (NERV) have submitted a proposal to Minister of Education Josef Dobeš (Public Affairs, VV) that only English should be compulsory for school children. According to NERV, Czech students should be able to get by in life if they are fluent in English. Instead of studying another compulsory foreign language, for example, German or French, they could concentrate on law, finance and IT. A second foreign language would be voluntary.

Minister Dobeš agrees with the NERV proposal to abolish compulsory teaching of German, French or Spanish at Czech schools. “I am not against it. I have concurred in everything the NERV experts have presented. In addition, English is a subject included within the leaving examination,” Dobeš said. “It is not on the agenda today.”

On the other hand, the NERV proposal has met with disapproval on the part of schools and companies. Large foreign firms in particular need employees who speak two languages, yet have increasing difficulty to find them here. Some 70 percent of top managers addressed in a Czech Position “Voice of Elite” poll said that students at Czech schools should compulsorily learn two or more foreign languages.

A small country in a global world

“Foreign languages — the more the better — should be taught at schools. The old proverb ‘The more languages you know, the more people you are’ still holds true, and in the age of globalization has even a greater importance. The question is how many foreign languages should be included in compulsory education. But I would not exaggerate it — two compulsory yet properly taught languages, instead of a higher number of badly taught ones,” the first respondent said.

‘In terms of application in practical and especially business life [English] is not the only significant language.’

“By no means do I agree with NERV’s proposal that merely one foreign language — English — should be taught compulsorily. English is indisputably a global language, yet in terms of application in practical and especially business life it is not the only significant language. Some 85 percent of the Czech Republic’s business cooperation takes place with European Union member states, and more than half with German-speaking countries, above all Germany. Forgetting this fact would be a fatal error,” the first respondent concluded.

Opposing opinions were voiced in the next two answers: “High-quality and extended teaching of one language, English, would be sufficient, with its aim being to teach all students at least the rudiments of basic communication. More lessons, and their division into two or three levels, would be of greater importance for Czech citizens. A greater focus on mathematics and physics should be supplemented by high-quality teaching of one foreign language,” one manager said.

The next manager said that not every child is talented enough to manage two or more languages as part of compulsory education. “One compulsory foreign language is enough. Parents can always enroll their children, if their knowledge makes it possible, at a school teaching several languages. It makes no sense to stress out untalented children and force them to learn two or more languages.”

The following two top managers, however, said one compulsory foreign language is insufficient. “The competitive strength and, accordingly, the future of every small nation depend on its ability to communicate and make itself understood with its business partners and neighbors. And this is doubly true in the case of our small nation, which does not abound in mineral resources as, for example, the Norwegians do, and is reliant on sales of its products and ideas. Therefore, knowledge of English should be the compulsory minimum and, with regard to our geographic and historical position, Russian or German in addition. For visionaries, I would recommend Mandarin and Hindi too,” the respondent said.

‘Without first-rate language teachers, it is a utopian idea.’

The next manger agreed in part, but had some reservations over quality. “We are a small country that can only thrive thanks to work with high added value, not as an assembly line for the West. Yet, to flourish we need educated people. Therefore, a functional education system is crucial, and knowledge of several foreign languages is a strategic necessity. However, when I imagine who would teach these two or more foreign languages, it gives me the creeps. The quality of language teachers at Czech primary and secondary schools is disastrous. Without first-rate language teachers, it is a utopian idea. That is why first of all we have to train them up and pay.”

A waste of money for chimney sweeps

This respondent does not give a clear answer: “There is no clear, unambiguous answer to the question, since the schools, or types of school, have not been clearly earmarked. Especially when it comes to some training centers, for example, for butchers, joiners or chimney sweeps, I consider teaching foreign languages on top of the rudiments of English to be a waste of money,” this respondent began.

‘All in all, there is obviously no universal answer to this question.’

“Intensive foreign-language lessons at primary schools are debatable. I would insist on compulsory basics of English, then Russian for older pupils. At secondary schools, above all grammar schools, it is a necessity,” the respondent continued. “I would recommend that some optional subjects at grammar schools be taught in a foreign language, which is already the case at some progressive grammar schools. For instance, French is taught at the Matyáš Lerch Grammar School in Brno. At universities, there is compulsory tuition in specialist English, according to the chosen discipline, and the student should have the opportunity to choose another language. All in all, there is obviously no universal answer to this question.”

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