Why everyone should learn a foreign language

Yes, I’m going to bang on about this. Again.

Recently I heard that my school were going to stop making languages compulsory. Call me a languages fascist, but I’m disappointed. At the very least more people should take up programmes like ERASMUS, which offers students across the EU to study at another university during the course of their degree (and gives them grants to do so). For reference, I’m British and will be talking about British students, particularly English ones.

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Anglophone culture, fuck yeah!

You see, English people speak the world’s lingua franca as their first language. This is very good for purposes of communication in English – but pretty crap for getting English people to bother learning other languages, as they just assume everyone else will have a basic level of English and be happy to speak to people who couldn’t care less about making an effort to learn about their language or their culture. Neither of these assumptions are true; not everyone finds learning a language easy, and it’s pretty annoying having to speak to someone who doesn’t even give enough of a damn to learn a couple of basic words (seriously, in most languages it’s not that hard to learn a couple of phrases to get you around most places). Moreover, the benefits of learning another language only manifest themselves after a couple of years; before then fluent speech and comprehension are fairly difficult.

The upshot of this turns out to be taking people who for the most part don’t care about other languages and cultures and telling them “millions of people around the world speak these languages, but you don’t have to if you don’t want to”. That’s not going to result in a higher uptake of the subject or more people continuing to study it after 16, that’s going to render a largely monolingual nation even more monolingual.

I understand that there are difficulties in teaching languages in English schools (read: most languages departments are shoddy) and that a lot of people have difficulty learning languages in the way that they are taught in schools – this is bolded because it’s important. I’ve known people who did awfully at languages at school, then subsequently went to a different country, picked up the language and slipped quite nicely into a foreign society. In that case, it would be useful to publicise ERASMUS and study abroad schemes far more at school and university, as well as publicising the work of the British Council, which offers internships and teaching posts for students abroad and helps you sort out reasonably-priced accommodation to boot. I also understand that languages teaching, like any kind of teaching, is a hard and often thankless task.

But please, please, don’t send yet another batch of proudly ignorant monoglots out into this world. The rest of us are sick and tired of dealing with them.

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