More Competitiveness with Foreign Languages or National Confidence?

I've just come across the following articles - and the issue of teaching foreign languages - and cannot help but add a few comments and ask those who are better informed for their knowledge and opinions...

Guardian: Michael Gove proposes teaching foreign languages from age five & Gove spells out next step on his agenda for schools (30. 9. 2011)

"Just as some people have taken a perverse pride in not understanding mathematics, so we have taken a perverse pride in the fact that we do not speak foreign languages, and we just need to speak louder in English. It is literally the case that learning languages makes you smarter. The neural networks in the brain strengthen as a result of language learning."
"Understanding a modern foreign language helps you understand English better," he says. "The process of becoming fluent in a foreign language reinforces your fluency and understanding of grammar, syntax, sentence structure, verbal precision. There is no one who is fluent in a foreign language who isn't a masterful user of their own language."  
"Learning a foreign language, and the culture that goes with it, is one of the most useful things we can do to broaden the empathy and imaginative sympathy and cultural outlook of children."
In the interview he also urges more schools to follow the example of academies by extending the school day, for example by adding five hours' extra learning a week – or six weeks a year.
As little as I know about the British education system, it seems to me that the realization of the importance of teaching languages is very important, and the sooner kids start to learn a foreign language, the better. I must say I've never hear about learning languages making people smarter, though. I remember that at my school, there used to be those more proficient languages (usually girls), and those handling mathematics and physics more easily (normally boys). And I never thought the former were more intelligent than the letter...

Anyway, the other two arguments are much more in line with what I've been pondering and studying: that learning a foreign language makes you reflect on your own language differently and enhances your understanding of languages in general. (As a matter of fact, teaching your own language to foreigners is even better in that!)

At schools, our mother tongues are approached from a different angle than foreign languages, though. While with foreign languages, we only focus on communication - and speaking in the first place, in the classes of our mother tongue (and now I refer to the teaching of Czech at schools), teachers drill grammatical rules and fuss about proper spelling - thus prevailingly focus on writing. Plus, we learn about tens of national writers and poets, to admire the beauty of our amazing and unique language - nevermind that we aren't able to write a proper application or complaint, or deal with the tax forms later...

Back to the point: Gove adds that learning a foreign language contributes to broadening "the empathy and imaginative sympathy and cultural outlook of children." And that is exactly what's needed in multicultural societies.

Nevertheless, the Czech Minister of Education (Be his further continuance in office as short as possible, please!) Josef Dobeš has a different opinion: He believes that Czech children need to strengthen their national pride - "Let's improve our national confidence, study our history and strong figures ... Children should know what fields Czechs are world leaders in." And why? Because "in comparison with American or British students, Czech students are mousy, and national self-confidence simply belongs to competitiveness."

For one thing, I would like to see some proof of this last statement of his, as I strongly doubt there's some research to back it up (other than his "deep conviction given by his family background and experience from Czech and foreign schools"). For another, isn't it a bit backward, in times of increasing numbers of pupils and students of foreign origin at Czech schools? How's "building national confidence" going to include them?

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PS: A few questions: How long is a schoolweek in Britain, how many hours per day? Is it too much of an extension what Gove's asking? Also, there seems to be a controversy over "free schools", why's that?

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