I sometimes have the impression that nowadays absolutely everyone in Poland learns foreign languages! English mostly, of course, but more and more people also choose some more exotic languages.
I had a great deal to do with foreign languages in Poland, both as a student and a teacher and I have to say that the whole situation isn’t looking too good. First of all, I think that I started learning foreign languages too late. I know things are slowly changing, but starting to teach foreign languages in the 5th grade (when the pupils are 12) means starting them off behind most other European countries. The second thing I really don’t like about the language-instruction philosophy in Polish schools is the rigid curricula that concentrate on grammar rules the most. Without some basics one certainly cannot expect the students to start speaking fluently but in my opinion they should be motivated or even made to speak much more. How is it that while having 5 hours of German a week at high school most of my classmates went to spend other long hours at language schools in the evening to really learn this language? Do we really need to pay a lot of money for something to appreciate it? Is that the only way to get us motivated?
On the other hand as a “teacher” I encountered cases I would have to describe as hopeless – where every pedagogical effort came to nothing and I could start out each and every lesson by revising the conjugation of the verb “to be” in the present tense. Another phenomenon is that more and more “older” people decide to take up foreign languages, very often from scratch. Of course their learning capabilities are not as good as those of the young but they are much more motivated and enthusiastic about it and I really admire their determination. These people tended to be my favorite “students”. They were focused and disciplined unlike children and teenagers who are made to learn languages by their parents. Adults already know the worth and meaning of education and fulfill solely their own ambitions when gaining new qualifications like foreign language knowledge.
It is really difficult to cope in the contemporary world without some foreign language ability. It is hard to find a job without at least intermediate knowledge of English (although as proved many times by various journalists one does not have to speak foreign languages to deal with foreign affairs in our parliament!) and one cannot communicate with friends from abroad. It often turns out later, however, that the required language is neither used nor necessary for the given job and many people don’t actually have friends from abroad (or they could try to find friends among the “numerous” foreigners who speak Polish :)). So does everyone REALLY need to learn and speak (there’s a huge gap between learning and speaking, believe me) foreign languages? What do you think? Let me know!