Language learning in Scotland: a 1 + 2 approach

Report and recommendations from the Languages Working Group on Scotland's language education policy.


Why does language learning matter?

1. Language learning is life enhancing. It opens the doors to possibilities and experiences which are not available to those who are restricted to the knowledge of one language. Learning an additional language also facilitates a deeper understanding of the possibilities of language and of communication, including those relating to the learner's mother tongue.

2. Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) aims to equip our young people for life and to prepare them for a future Scotland that is open to the world. Within the framework of CfE there is a recognition of the importance of language learning as a communicative skill which will enable our young people to participate fully in a global society and economy.

3. As with other areas of the curriculum, positive language learning experiences contribute to young people's development as successful learners, confident individuals, effective contributors and responsible citizens. Through learning new languages young people can become successful learners with opportunities relating to working and travelling abroad; confident individuals able to communicate in more than one language; effective contributors to a changing world with an understanding of Scotland's relationship to other countries; and responsible citizens with an awareness of cultures and languages in addition to their own.

4. The growth of business and travel worldwide makes a compelling case for learning languages. The business community recognises the advantages of being able to communicate in the language of potential clients. Indeed, in an increasingly globalised world, knowledge of the local language as well as cultural protocols and practices is essential to negotiations. People who come to Scotland, be it for business, pleasure, or as tourists appreciate it if their hosts are equipped to communicate with them in their own language even at a basic level. The damaging perception, especially within the UK, that languages are not important because everyone speaks English has to be challenged. The manifesto commitment marks an important opportunity to challenge this perception and to provide clear steps for raising the profile of modern language learning in Scotland. Increased enthusiasm for language learning, earlier access in primary school and greater uptake in secondary school towards certification will inevitably lead to an increase in attainment of pupils in languages, as well as impacting on levels of overall attainment.

5. The Government's languages policy offers the opportunity to reflect on the development of Scotland as a diverse, complex, multicultural and multilingual nation. We, as a nation, should celebrate this diversity and the diverse languages in our midst. This diversity includes Scotland's own languages, Gaelic and Scots. The languages spoken increasingly in communities throughout Scotland offer schools and learners the chance to learn more about their own and other cultures. In taking forward a 1 + 2 policy, the Working Group is mindful that it is a policy which will only succeed if it brings benefits for all young people wherever they live in Scotland and whatever their social background.


6. The Working Group believes that delivery of the Government's commitment to a 1 + 2 languages policy will give a significant new impetus to language learning and teaching in schools throughout Scotland. A key element in this will be the development of an engagement strategy aimed at all those upon whom the policy will impact. Most important among these are parents, teachers and young people themselves. Much work needs to be done in convincing citizens of Scotland of the importance and value of acquiring language skills as part of a greater engagement in the wider world beyond Scotland. Older pupils and university students must be encouraged to consider language teaching as a career option. There must be engagement also with teachers, with encouragement to develop their own language skills in order to play a full part in 1 + 2 development.

7. In the face of substantial evidence showing that an inability to speak additional languages is one of the major handicaps in Britain for developing trading links with other countries, the business community has a particular interest in the promotion of language learning. Annex A provides a summary of research commissioned by the Working Group showing that there is a considerable weight of evidence highlighting the benefit to individuals, business, culture and the economy of having a workforce able and confident to communicate freely with partners around the globe. It also suggests that an inability to engage with foreign business in its own language is a barrier to trade development and can be measured as a cost equivalent to over £500 million to the Scottish economy.

Working with others

8. Developing and implementing the details of a new policy will require considerable commitment from a range of stakeholders, in particular schools and teachers. An audit of the resources within the system, including the number of teachers trained under previous Modern Languages in the Primary School ( MLPS) and GLPS initiatives will be required and consideration will need to be given to teacher professional development and future initial teacher education ( ITE). This is set out in Part 6. Schools should consider how native or fluent speakers of additional languages with appropriate skills could be deployed to support the work of teachers. This is set out in Part 7. Local authorities will be required to develop a strategic policy for the delivery of 1 + 2 languages within their own areas. This should take account of the existing policy for statutory Gaelic Language planning, and the work being taken forward by Scottish Government and Education Scotland for the promotion of Scots.

9. The roles of other stakeholder bodies, including Education Scotland, Scotland's National Centre for Languages, universities, GTCS and SQA are indicated throughout the report.

Piloting and trialling

10. The Working Group makes recommendations for piloting and trialling to demonstrate effective methods of teaching and learning to take forward the 1 + 2 policy. The report seeks to set some short, mid and long-term targets for delivery. However it does not offer a definitive programme of work over the lifetime of two parliaments, nor a detailed template for language learning beyond 2020, since further consideration will be informed by the process of piloting, trialling and evaluation, and some areas of the policy will evolve through time and experience.

Financial context

11. The Working Group is mindful of the difficult financial circumstances facing Government and local authorities. In the course of this report certain areas of development which are likely to require significant resources to deliver the 1 + 2 languages policy are indicated, although the detail of resources will require further consideration in the light of an audit of current staffing resources and pilot and development work. Potential resource implications are summarised in Part 8.


12. The Working Group believes that implementation of a 1+2 policy is for all young people wherever they live in Scotland, in urban or rural communities, in large or small schools. The group is also mindful that many teachers and schools work in communities which experience high levels of social deprivation. Such deprivation and its consequences are probably the greatest challenges we face in seeking to raise attainment in Scotland's schools.

13. The introduction of a 1+2 policy takes place against a background of these realities and this will lead to new challenges for teachers and schools. It is important to stress, however, that the concept of equality and social justice lies at the heart of the Working Group's thinking. A 1+2 policy must be for all pupils and must be inclusive. This is further developed elsewhere in the report.


14. The 1+2 commitment is to be delivered over the lifetime of two Parliaments. The Working Group report, therefore, considers that there is a need for a well considered implementation plan. This plan should include arrangements to monitor developments, carry out evaluations as appropriate and oversee all aspects of implementation.


15. In accordance with European practice the report uses the following terms: L1 when referring to mother tongue, L2 for second language or first additional language, L3 for third language or second additional language.

16. In places the report refers to 'Modern Languages' which is the terminology used in Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) for foreign languages. In other places, it uses 'languages' in a more general way, for example, when referring to Scotland's own languages, 'community' languages and British Sign Language ( BSL).

17. The focus of this Report is on initiatives that can promote 1+2 language learning in Scotland's schools. The Working Group is aware that Scotland has a very good example of language immersion education through Gaelic Medium Education ( GME). GME is currently available in about 60 primary schools throughout Scotland. The aim of GME is the attainment of a high level of language skills in two languages while also allowing for the learning of a third language. Although GME is an important part of wider language provision in Scotland, the Working Group does not attempt to cover in this Report and its Recommendations all the development needs associated with GME. These have been dealt with elsewhere in documents such as the National Gaelic Language Plan and the report, Building on the Successes, Addressing the Barriers.


Email: Pam Semple

Phone: 0300 244 4000 – Central Enquiry Unit

The Scottish Government
St Andrew's House
Regent Road

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