Academic calls for conversational language skills to be taken seriously

An academic in the field of education is calling for basic tourism language courses to be taken more seriously. Dr Alison Phipps from the Faculties of Arts and Education at Glasgow University is questioning the attitude of academics who claim language courses which teach basic phrases for tourism purposes are a threat to more traditional language courses such as Higher Stills and A-levels.

In her new book, Learning the Arts of Linguistic Survival, Dr Phipps highlights the advantages of these language courses. She said: "Learners not only gain a deeper understanding of the host, or foreign culture, but their understanding of their home environment also undergoes a change. It is time for learning to order a cup of coffee in a foreign language to be taken more seriously than has so far been the case."

There has been an increase in the number of people taking language courses for tourism purposes and a decline in the number of pupils taking traditional qualifications in modern languages. However, Dr Phipps thinks that adult education courses shouldn't be viewed in a negative light.

Dr Phipps said: "Languages are fully embodied, not detached skills which are 'acquirable' in easily measurable ways. Learning the conversational language skills required to order a cup of coffee is not only useful when travelling abroad but tourist languages are a major medium of intercultural relations. When we bother to learn tourist languages there is, at root, a gesture of survival towards all that sustains social life."

Dr Phipps argues that learning to converse in another tongue allows us to change our perceptions of the world whether it is via a traditional qualification or a short course before we go on holiday.

Kate Richardson (K.richardson@admin.gla.ac.uk)


1. For more information please contact the University of Glasgow Media Relations Office on 0141 330 3683 or email K.Richardson@admin.gla.ac.uk. Dr Phipps is available for interview.

2. Learning the Arts of Linguistic Survival by Dr Alison Phipps is published by Channel View Publications

3. Alison Phipps is Director of Graduate Development for Arts, Humanities and Education at the University of Glasgow, where she teaches modern languages, comparative literature, anthropology and intercultural studies. Her books include Acting Identities (2000), Contemporary German Cultural Studies (ed. 2002), Modern Languages: Learning and Teaching in an Intercultural Field (2004) with Mike Gonzalez, Critical Pedagogy: Political Approaches to Languages and Intercultural Communication (ed. 2004) with Manuela Guilherme and Tourism and Intercultural Exchange (2005) with Gavin Jack.

First published: 5 December 2006