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Monolingualism: it’s time to stop

Written by Comment

Good ol’ Blighty is proving her ineptitude yet again, as research shows that many schools and
universities are descaling their languages departments due to students’ lack of interest in speaking
anything other than English.

“Why should they?” some might argue. After all, English is the lingua franca and the international
business language. Everyone else speaks English. Why do we need to bother? Attitudes like that are simply rude and show extreme entitlement and privilege. English is indeed spoken by an astonishing 983 million people around the world, but only just under a third of these are native speakers. Mandarin Chinese, on the other hand, is spoken by 1.1 billion people, of which a whopping 897 million are native speakers. In terms of the number of native speakers, therefore, English doesn’t even come close. Despite this, recent history shows just how self-centric modern-day Britain is, whether we look at events like Brexit or the increased instances of Islamophobia. Britain is
shown to be opposing globalisation and thus cutting herself off from the outside world.

Recent reports have shown that the proportion of students taking GCSEs in languages is continuing to
decline, while universities are similarly experiencing a drop in the number of students applying for
undergraduate foreign languages courses. The BBC revealed that language learning has dropped to its
lowest level in UK secondary schools since the turn of the millennium, with the most significant drops
observed in French and German.

In response to this, The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Modern Languages, composed of MPs
and peers, have set out a National Recovery Programme with the ambitious goal of changing Britain’s
attitudes towards language learning.

As a languages student myself, I can identify that attitudes towards language learning do definitely
need to be addressed. People often envisage their GCSE days and have a vision of language students
as sat in a lecture theatre listening to ‘Feliz Navidad’ while colouring in a German flag and eating
croissants. Language learning at an advanced level isn’t like that.

Language learning is about learning how to communicate with people and exploring other cultures;
such cultural awareness and acceptance is arguably needed in a day and age where Tommy Robison
somehow is still able to attract a legion of supporters. Language learning teaches you about politics,
it teaches you about religion, it teaches you about history, it teaches you about morals and ethics.
Learning a foreign language is about so much more than just drawing dicks in your secondary school
dictionaries; language learning is about realising that there is a bigger world out there.

Languages open doors. Globalisation is decreasing the physical difference between countries, and
through improving language learning in Britain we can decrease the cultural barriers too.

Last modified: 27th March 2019

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