Every kid wants (and needs) to learn English

Greece’s European Commissioner Anna Diamantopoulou caused a stir recently with her proposal that English be Greece’s second official language. The ensuing debate has drawn attention to the fact that a sound knowledge of English is considered mandatory in Greece. In effect, English is already the country’s second language, facilitating contacts with other countries necessary for further studies and new business opportunities. It is generally accepted that English is a passport to the labor market but the State does not seem to be able to start English language instruction early on in primary education, leaving the job to the private institutes. According to a trend that began in the middle of the 1990s, more and more parents are deciding to start private language tuition for their children when they are as young as four or five. Not only in English, but also in French and German. According to a survey for the Panhellenic Association of Language School Owners (PALSO), 14 percent of parents believe that their children should begin to learn a foreign language at the age of six. Despite so much interest, the Greek State has been lagging behind. According to the latest report from the European Union for 2001, Greece, and France, only introduces foreign language teaching in the fourth year of compulsory education. In Austria and Luxembourg, foreign language teaching begins in the first class of primary school. In most EU member states – including Greece – foreign language learning continues until the end of secondary education. Greek children not only begin late, but they also receive fewer hours of language tuition than their EU counterparts. Over the past 10 years, the number of private language institutes in Greece has more than doubled to the point where there are now 11,000 of them, teaching over 1 million children. Nine in 10 pupils learn English, followed by French (61 percent), German (36 percent), Italian (35 percent) and Spanish (14.3 percent). Greek children appear to have a talent for foreign languages, with over 65 percent obtaining higher proficiency certificates. One in four children learns a second foreign language. Reforms. Bulgaria’s Defence Minister Nikolai Svinarov said yesterday the Bulgarian armed forces would be cut by 20,000 over the next two and a half years, as part of reforms to prepare the country for joining NATO. The most difficult part of the reform has still to come, Svinarov said. There are 20,000 military personnel that will have to go over the next two and a half years to bring numbers down to 45,000, he explained. The Bulgarian defense budget has swelled to cope with compensation payments for redundant officers and the maintenance of the armed forces. In 2002 it will absorb 3 percent of the country’s gross domestic product. (AFP)

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