“Why are you studying languages? Everyone speaks English.”
This is a typical phrase that many foreign language students in the UK hear at least a few times during their time at university. Britain seems to be filled with naive people who believe that English is spoken all around the world, and think that we don’t need to make an effort to communicate in another language. It seems talking slowly and loudly at foreigners is an acceptable form of communication, even if we are in their country!
With less than 50% of 15-16 year olds taking a language at GCSE, and the number of students studying languages at A-level or university plummeting, the UK is at the bottom of the European languages league table for those being able to speak at least one other language. This is embarrassing for the UK as 80% of young people in Sweden and the Netherlands are able to speak another language . The EU is also doing everything it can to help increase the number of multi-linguists in Europe by increasing the budget for Erasmus funding, which can only be a good thing. Where would languages in the UK be without the EU and Erasmus funding? Not many of us would be able to afford to go on a year abroad therefore not improving our language skills enough.
I am working in two primary schools just outside of Paris as part of my year abroad. Most pupils here start learning English when they are six years old, and a few of them started when they were three! Learning a language from such a young age makes it easier for them to pick it up; some of the children are still learning to read and write! They find English enjoyable and a well-needed change from learning French, Maths, History and Geography. Learning English is also compulsory from a young age, whereas here in Britain, languages are currently only compulsory from year 7- 9 (ages 11-13), and students have the choice whether to take languages as a GCSE exam option.
Thankfully, from September 2014 it will be compulsory for primary schools to teach a language from the age of seven. I have seen for myself how much French children enjoy learning English, I hope that British pupils will feel the same when experiencing another language and culture and that will hopefully increase the number of people studying languages in the future.
Note: Statistics for this post have been taken from: http://www.theguardian.com/education/2013/oct/21/eu-prioritises-languages
How important is it to you to learn how to speak foreign languages? How many languages can you speak?