“One language sets you in a corridor for life. Two languages open every door along the way.”
Frank Smith, Canadian Psycholinguist
As a self-professed linguaphile and the holder of a 158-day Duolingo streak, I have always had a keen interest in languages. I strongly agree with the quote above in that by learning a language, one opens passageways to paths previously unventured. By becoming bilingual, a person improves their memory, their problem-solving capabilities, and decision-making skills all the while giving themselves a valuable tool enabling them to travel more easily. There is seemingly no downside to learning a foreign language and yet in England there has been a reduction in the number of pupils taking a foreign language in school. In 2002, around seventy-five percent of sixteen-year-olds were taking a language at GCSE level. However, 2004 saw a policy change removing the obligation to take a language and as a result, that seventy-five percent dropped significantly to forty percent. This level has never returned to its 2002 heights currently sitting at around forty seven percent. This is a tragic loss for England’s school children and their futures in this increasing globalised world and economy. However, there is a solution to this problem: diversify the languages taught in schools. Offer Mandarin, Arabic and Japanese in addition to French, Spanish and German. Here is why I think this would help:
“To learn a language is to have one more window from which to look at the world.”
Since Brexit, the phrase Global Britain has been uttered by nearly every politician in government as a way of explaining that leaving the European Union was not a way of cutting the country off from the continent but a way of re-entering the wider world at large. What better way to demonstrate this than by teaching languages used predominantly outside the European continent? According to IMF projections, some of fastest growing economies this year include Indonesia, Mexico, India and China, with the last two taking first and second place. If students were to learn languages like Hindi and Mandarin, they would have the skills to compete in those competitive job markets.
“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.”
Nelson Mandela, South African anti-apartheid activist and former South African President
The UK is a diverse nation where multiple cultures and languages are found across the country, be they native to island or otherwise. In recent years, there have been numerous news stories about xenophobia and a disunity within diverse communities. Language barriers and a lack of understanding of foreign cultures are undoubtedly a factor in such matters. Therefore, by introducing language studies to the curriculum and featuring languages such as Polish, Urdu, Punjabi, the gap between cultures and understanding could be bridged. True, it will not immediately fix the cultural divide immediately, however, it would be a step towards encouraging cohesion for the generation.
“With languages, you are at home anywhere.”
Edmund De Waal, Artist
Travelling for some can seem like an impossible dream. Especially in this pandemic where many people, particularly young people feel trapped on these British Isles, their freedom to move and travel severely restricted. However, as countries begin to get a hold on the virus, travelling is becoming a possibility again. Learning a language is extremely useful when travelling as it allows the traveller to connect with native speakers better, allowing for opportunities and destinations that they likely would never have the chance to experience. Learning languages like Thai, Swahili, or Farsi, allows for the chance to experience places that they would never consider. A win-win situation for both the tourism industry and the traveller.
So, while English may the lingua franca of the world, it is high time that us English speakers realise that speaking another foreign, particularly ones spoken further afield is a good idea. It opens up a literal world of opportunities, sorely needed in this rapidly changing economy. By starting this learning process at school, children are given an important head start that can only improve their lives.