A foreign language is a language indigenous to another country. 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 characterisations do not exhaust the possible definitions, however, and the label is occasionally applied in ways that are variously misleading or factually inaccurate.
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, three or more 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 father and Japanese at school in Japan can speak both English and Japanese, but neither is a foreign language to her. Most schools around the world teach at least one foreign language. By 1998 nearly all pupils 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. In Wales, all children are taught Welsh from the first year of primary school. 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...
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