Earlier this month, A-level and GCSE students over the country received results for a range of subjects. One subject area that has been on the decline, however, is #Languages. The number of students taking language subjects at GCSE and A-level has been falling every year.
This year, the BBC reported further decline in the number of students taking languages, stating that “entries for French [GCSE] had more than halved in the past two decades.” Lower numbers of modern languages entries compared to other subjects, such as sciences and maths, has been attributed to school funding pressures. It is challenging to find qualified teaching staff for languages, leaving institutions unable to fund smaller class groups.
Why is language-learning on the decline?
One reason that students are less likely to take languages is the attraction of higher paid career paths in the scientific and industrial sectors. Another reason is that languages simply aren’t textbook-friendly subjects. They don’t consist of learning facts; languages require practice, building vocabulary, and an open mind to different cultural values.
These aspects of language-learning don’t lend themselves particularly well to exam preparation, but are the very aspects that make foreign language-learning such a crucial 21st century practice.
Aside from the evident career opportunities and international prospects, being able to speak a foreign language widens your perspective, allowing you to unlock possibilities.
Speaking a foreign language makes you a welcome exception
When visiting a different country, being able to speak the language makes you a welcome exception; different from the majority of British tourists.
This summer, I travelled to Greece, and found myself trying to communicate with a shop assistant who couldn’t speak English. The struggle of the interaction made me realise the extent to which British people depend on foreigners’ language skills in English. Without their efforts, cultural exchange becomes suddenly impossible, leaving only confusion and silence.
The inability to communicate in another language is a barrier
Humans have a natural tendency towards ‘othering’; that is, to consider other human beings in different ‘groups’ to our own, such as those in different countries, as nameless strangers whom we cannot identify with.This ‘othering’ is what makes it easy to consider unknown people as outsiders. It is the reason why the death of a protagonist in a book is more upsetting than the death of irrelevant characters, and the same is true in real life. The ability to sympathise only with those whom we know is a coping mechanism of humanity.
An inability to communicate in another language, therefore, is a barrier. It is an excuse to estrange yourself from others, and detach yourself from sympathy towards them.
Over half of the British public voted for Britain to leave the European Union in June. It is undeniable that a lack of knowledge of foreign languages has contributed to the barrier that England is forcing between itself and other countries.This is why the future of our ability to understand others depends upon language-learning. Communication allows us to unlock the intentions, values and beliefs of others, and combine their thoughts with our own.
Growing numbers of institutions are pushing aside the importance of languages as part of education, and consequently as part of Britain’s future. But it is crucial that languages should be made a priority, not a side option. #Brexit #Resultsday