Uni-lingual: It’s Not Big And It’s Not Clever

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Over 75% of the world’s population does not speak English. So why do some people argue that learning a new language is unimportant, and claim that “everyone speaks English” anyway?

Rötzsch via Wikimedia Commons

Learning a foreign language normally starts in secondary schools from the age of 11 and is obviously, from day one, very unlike learning Science or Maths. There are grammatical rules and formulae to abide by and often anomalies to these rules and words that work with some prepositions and not others. As a result, becoming fluent in another language requires commitment, and above all, exposure and practice, in order to pass with a good grade. A lot of children lack the commitment or the enthusiasm to thrust themselves into learning a language, when it is so much easier to scrape that B in Maths by plugging away at differentiations and so on, and this has resulted in a dramatic drop of children choosing to study a language at GCSE level.

Having hated studying languages from age 11 until 14, it doesn’t surprise me that less and less people are willing to do it. At GCSE, emphasis is very much on ticking all the right boxes to pass the exam as opposed to pursuing something that is enjoyable and will be beneficial towards a future career; but at 11 years old, who knows what they will want to become? Despite this, I still believe it is crucial to start emphasising the importance and flexibility of having at least some knowledge of a second language as early as possible. Truth be told, at 11 years old, I probably couldn’t have cared less about those old people standing at the front of the classroom jabbering on about jobs and the future, but only now that I understand how difficult it is becoming for people to find jobs am I made aware of the attraction of the rare skill of knowing a second language. Everyone, even at 11 years old, deserves to have an awareness of exactly how desirable a foreign language looks to potential employers.

Learning a second language isn’t just going to increase chances of employability. It is also an invaluable life and communicative tool across countries. Brits seem to acquired a disgustingly ignorant attitude towards foreign languages in today’s world, and this needs to be eradicated as soon as possible. “Everyone speaks English”, “Why should I learn any of their language when I’m only going for a week?” and “I’m sure they’ll speak English over there, if not, I’ll point” are common excuses. Is it just me, or does that seem backward? The minority of people will know what I’m talking about when I explain that great feeling you get when you have tried to speak the language and immediately know that you have gained the respect of the native. They tend to be much nicer to those who at least make the effort to speak their language. And fair enough, I say. If somebody came up to me and started speaking loudly and slowly in a language I had no idea about, I’d be pretty offended and shocked at their brazen ignorance. Learning, at least, how to say “hello,” how to apologise or how to say “where is…?” in another language is far better than going in, all guns blazing, with absolutely no words to work with.

For those of you who have never considered learning a second language, maybe it would be in your best interest to at least have a gander. For those of you who don’t want to even look: wake up. The world does not revolve around the English language, and your experience of the world would be much broadened by the experience of new cultures and languages. It’s a win-win situation, surely?

  • http://www.facebook.com/earivir Harry Parkhill

    You say that 75% of the world doesn’t speak English. Yes this is true, but the vast majority of the people we will come into contact with in Business and Politics do speak English so it is still retaining its importance. This will probably change as China, India and Brazil become more and more significant economically. Your article addresses some interesting points, but the fact of the matter is Secondary Schools teaching us French, Spanish and German is built on the former superpowers of Europe. We should be being taught Mandarin, Hindi, Portuguese etc from a young age NOW. It’ll put us in far better stead for the future!