“But everyone speaks English…!” How many times have you heard someone use this to avoid speaking another language? Following Eurovision last month, and presenter Amanda Holden’s “joke” about not distinguishing between languages reeled off the autocue, we thought it high time to discuss a long-held British stereotype…that we are rubbish at languages.
For those of you who missed it… *cringe*
Studies from the European Commission show that only 32% of British 15-30-year olds are able to read and write in two or more languages, compared to an average of 89% amongst our European counterparts. But why? Do we suffer from a genetic indisposition that prevents us? Or are we so arrogant that we rely on the assumption that everyone speaks English? Here at Atlas – whose directory of language experts contains an abundance of Brits! – we put these figures down to an attitude problem.
Following the government’s decision to render GCSE languages ‘non-compulsory’ in England in 2004, uptake in schools has been steadily declining year on year (Joint Council for Qualifications) and languages continue to be considered a difficult and dull area.
Time to dispel the myth! Communicating in a non-native language can enrich our lives in far further-reaching ways that perhaps more static subjects. To learn a language is to engage with and develop an interest in other communities; linguistic awareness encourages cultural empathy, tolerance and open-mindedness, as well as other invaluable benefits such as neural development, enhanced communication skills and increased confidence.
We must STOP being intimidated by language learning, and instead CHAMPION it as an accessible and extraordinary window to the world. Maybe if this country starts to embrace foreign languages, we’ll finally climb that Eurovision scoreboard! Fingers crossed for 2022!
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