“I learnt my Italian at the Adult Education Centre in Medway”: languages and adult learners

Kelly Tolhurst, MP, businesswoman and adult learner

Kelly Tolhurst, MP, businesswoman and adult learner

Kelly Tolhurst, the Member of Parliament for Rochester and Strood, recently explained the importance to her of learning another language. Working in marine services, she found herself dealing with Italian firms, where her language skills had a business pay-off. She also enjoys watching the Italian TV detective series Montalbano.

And how did she learn this important skill? “I learnt my Italian at the Adult Education Centre in Medway over 10 years”. Fair play to her: that’s a long haul, and learning another language – even one as beautiful as Italian – is work, real hard work.

Yet however hard-working, persistent and competent the learner, it’s virtually impossible to develop language competence without support. The attack on adult education across Britain has eradicated much provision – an attack often accompanied by politicians’ jibes about adult learners’ frivolous interests – and many adult modern language courses have disappeared.

So I was delighed to see that Medway Council’s Adult and Community Learning Service still offers four Italian classes and a Saturday morning ‘conversation cafe’ at its centre in Rochester – and much else besides. Just imagine what the sneerers would say about even a penny of public funding going towards a ‘conversation cafe’ in Italian.

I very much hope that Kelly Tolhurst, who is clearly a woman who knows her own mind, will share her views with the next politician to jeer at people who fail to show the properly serious and vocational mindset when tackling a foreign language.

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